Creating a Resource on How to Build an Urban Farm in Chicago with a Modest Budget

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Chicago Patchwork Farms
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Catherine Williams
Chicago Patchwork Farms


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, cropping systems, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: byproduct utilization
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, farm succession, feasibility study, new enterprise development, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community services, employment opportunities, new business opportunities, urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:


    A handful of neighborhoods of Chicago are riddled with vacant land. These same neighborhoods are also burdened with high rates of unemployment and high rates of lead exposure. Vacant land discourages economic investment and has a negative impact on the psyche of community members. The land becomes a holding house for trash and illicit activities. Furthermore, vacant land in Chicago is almost always contaminated with lead toxicity too high for children, or even for animals, to safely use the land. Without development, lead in the soil is free to blow throughout the community, contaminating yards and playgrounds.

    Many organizations in Chicago have used vacant land to build training farms. These farms do a great job of revitalizing land while also training people in sustainable agricultural techniques. Some of these trainees move on from these programs to run farms on incubator sites in the city, but few, if any, have successfully started their own farm on independent sites.

    In Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods there is simultaneously a dearth of healthy green spaces and a glut of open land. There are also a number of eager individuals trained to farm urban land. However, the task of securing land, navigating the city codes, and creating a farm from a vacant lot has proven overwhelming and/or over- daunting for most aspiring farmers. Therefore, the land remains unused, unhealthy and contaminated, and the surrounding neighborhoods remain blighted and underutilized.


    We want to help aspiring urban farmers convert vacant land into vibrant farms. First we will build a new farm using a modest amount of startup capital ($5000). While we are building, we will carefully track and record our process--documenting every step necessary. As the season progresses, we will keep detailed records of labor, inputs, production, expenses, income, and revenue. Then, in the fall and winter we will gather our data and collaborate with other farmers in Chicago to publish a comprehensive web and print resource that illuminates all aspects of farm development in Chicago. We will show that with a $5000 investment, one can build a successful farm business. This research will give aspiring farmers a path to success and it will also inform people interested in investing in urban agriculture. Once we create a blueprint for urban farmers, others can easily set up land and capital based organizations to support urban farm business development in Chicago.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Document and measure the inputs and processes involved in creating an urban farm in Chicago on vacant land and use this information to create a web and print resource for aspiring urban farmers.
    2. Positively impact the environment and community by modeling how to turn contaminated land into a vibrant, urban farm ecosystem.
    3. Collect valuable data about successful urban farm business models and present in a way that will allow others to start their own successful businesses.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.