Navigating Urban Agriculture

The City of Chicago is dedicated to supporting urban agriculture, removing barriers that exist for BIPOC growers and developing long- term solutions. The goal of this website is to establish a baseline of the current procedure to start an urban agriculture site (including both community gardens and urban farms) by mapping existing policies and procedures. It is intended as a helpful resource for current and future growers as well as their advocates. Guidance provided on this page is dedicated to community gardens and urban farming. If you are interested in cannabis, please visit this website for more information.  


The Opportunity 

Investing in urban farms and community gardens helps promote positive social, economic, and health impacts. However, the City has too many barriers in place that prevent BIPOC growers and producers from accessing critical resources for scaling urban agriculture efforts, such as water, land, and training. In collaboration with food system partners, the City is committed to implementing programs to minimize barriers and improve urban agriculture. These initiatives include equitable water access, farming education and employment programs, and economic empowerment of community gardens. The City will also launch pilot programs to streamline processes as well as provide assistance from application through planting.  


Land Acknowledgment 

The City of Chicago is located on land that is and has long been a center for Native peoples. The area is the traditional homelands of the Anishinaabe, or the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi Nations. Many other Nations consider this area their traditional homeland, including the Myaamia, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac and Fox, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Wea, Kickapoo and Mascouten. The City specifically acknowledges the contributions of Kitihawa of the Potawatomi in fostering the community that has become Chicago. We acknowledge all Native peoples who came before us and who continue to contribute to our city. We are committed to promoting Native cultural heritage.


Community Garden or Urban Farm?

Community gardens and small urban farms have operated in Chicago for many years. However, Chicago’s Municipal Code offered little guidance for large-scale urban agriculture until September 2011, when the City Council approved a suite of new zoning code provisions. These provisions authorized community gardens up to 25,000 square feet in size, relaxed fencing and parking requirements for larger urban farms, and allowed for hydroponic and aquaponic systems, among other changes. 

There are different rules for community gardens and urban farms. The table below provides some information around a few key rules found in Chicago’s Municipal Code. When interpreting the Municipal Code, refer to the definitions in the zoning code. However, please be mindful that other sources may distinguish between “community garden” and “urban farm” based on different definitions or criteria. 

Land Access

Before you can navigate any other processes, you will need to show that you have legal access to the land. The procedure for gaining access depends on who owns the land.  

You may access privately-owned land for urban agriculture if you own the land yourself or if you have a written agreement from the owner. There are instances where the City may verify if the owner is current on City and County property taxes and free of City or County judgments or liens.  

The sections below provide an overview of the procedures for accessing land owned by the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, or Chicago Public Schools.

Accessing land is only the first step toward creating your new community garden or urban agriculture site. See the Water Access, Selling Your Produce, and Other Topics sections of this webpage for more information. 

How to Access Land Owned by the City of Chicago

The City of Chicago owns thousands of vacant lots and encourages community members to apply to redevelop them. This can be done via purchase or lease, and it depends on the needs of your urban farm or community garden.  

If you are interested in purchasing City-owned land, visit ChiBlockBuilder. This website includes an interactive map of City-owned vacant lots with information about each one. It also provides instructions to potential buyers interested in using city land for “open space” (a category that includes urban agriculture). Finally, it is home to the official application to purchase land. Applications are open only periodically; however, you can sign up to be notified when they reopen.  

It is also possible to lease City-owned land for urban agriculture and there may be cases where this is a better option for growers. This can require approval from your alderman, an environmental site assessment, a Right of Entry from the Department of Assets, Information and Services, a lease agreement, and City Council approval.


How to Access Water for Urban Agriculture

There are four main options for securing water access at your farm/garden on a permanent or seasonal basis:  

1) New, dedicated water line 

2) Private, existing water source 

3) Rain barrel/tote water collection 

4) Hydrant permit (seasonal only) 



Selling Produce 

Chicago’s urban grower community includes entrepreneurs, social enterprises, and community-based projects, and there is not a standalone license tailored to this sector’s unique business needs. The City’s current license options for the sale of produce do not align with their business models, causing growers to run into licensing challenges. Please see the section on the Urban Agriculture Business License Enhancement Ordinance to learn more about the ordinance co-created by the Food Equity Council Urban Agriculture Workgroup.