Winter Gathering, New Project Profile, Policy updates & much more!
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Welcome to AUA's Winter Newsletter!

Dear friend, 

Even while buried under a few inches of snow, there is no hibernating for AUA – in fact, we continue to be as active as ever. Take, for example, our 4th Annual Urban Livestock Expo this Saturday, or the plethora of workshops and panels we're organizing for March's Good Food Festival, or the recent launch of our Ward Ambassadors Project... We're working as hard as ever to make sure 2016 is the best year yet for urban agriculture in Chicago.

We're also excited to share that AUA has taken a big step towards more democratically and transparently serving as the "voice" of Chicago's urban ag community by transitioning our governance structure to what will be a regularly elected Board of Directors. We've been hard at work drafting bylaws and resolutions for the Board to adhere to, and will keep you posted as we progress.

For now, take a look below to read about upcoming events, recent progress on policy work, ways to get involved, and much more. 

In this edition of AUA's E-Newsletter you'll find:
  • An in-depth look at this issue's featured urban agriculture project, Table-to-Farm
  • A detailed update on the campaign to protect seed libraries and exchanges
  • A report on our super informative Fall Gathering
  • The latest from our Working Groups, which have lots of progress to report on
  • And more!
Happy growing,

Billy Burdett
AUA Executive Director




Come and learn all about raising bees, goats, chickens, and more at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (3857 W 111th St). We have a great lineup of presenters, and are working on securing some local food and beverage vendors to make sure you’re warm and fed throughout the event (10AM-1PM). Oh, and admission is FREE – spread the word! (RSVP and invite friends via Facebook here)

AUA at the Good Food Festival & Conference
March 24-26, 2016

Volunteer and get in for free on Friday and/or Saturday!

AUA is teaming up again with Family Farmed and lots of other great local organizations to offer a whole slew of urban agriculture programming at the Good Food Festival and Conference on Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26. The event takes place at UIC Forum (725 W Roosevelt Rd) and its three days are broken up into a Financing & Innovation Conference on Thursday, an Industry Conference on Friday (which includes a few AUA-organized policy panels – see more about these in our Working Group reports and Seed Library article below), and the main family-friendly Festival on Saturday.

For Saturday's "Good Food Commons" AUA is coordinating 30 "micro workshops" (40 if you count the 10 livestock workshops that AUA's Martha Boyd is coordinating with Chicagoland Chicken Enthusiasts) in growing, composting, and preserving. Each 20-minute workshop has a different focus area and is presented by an expert or group of experts from one of Chicago's thriving urban ag/local food projects.

Tickets are available now, and AUA is also offering several volunteer opportunities on Friday and Saturday that include free admission to the event on the day(s) that you volunteer. If you're interested, please contact!

Project Profile: Table-to-Farm Compost Service

by Christy Spees
It’s happening right now. A food lover is cooking a wonderful dinner. He’s chopping away, carefully preparing his seasonal produce as the kitchen fills with delightful smells and sounds. He quickly brushes his scraps into the garbage can, cleaning while he works. In go carrot tops, egg shells, mushroom stems, and on goes the meal.
Many people in the urban agriculture community would cringe at the thought of throwing away all that food. But, until recently, in order for the average consumer to reduce his food waste, he had to create his own home compost. Unfortunately, little access to resources and education on the subject has led few to take that initiative. Particularly here in the Midwest, many city dwellers don’t consider home composting an option. Thanks to City Farm, there is now a simpler alternative. Families and individuals can collect their scraps in a designated container and drop them off to be turned into compost on a larger scale. No need for worms, backyard space, or know-how.
You’ve heard of Farm to Table. Fresh, local, sustainable foods are becoming increasingly more commonplace at the tables of Chicago restaurants and homes. City Farm, under the umbrella of the Resource Center, is taking this practice a step further by considering the reverse pipeline. With their project – aptly called Table-to-Farm – the organization posts up at the Logan Square Farmers Market each Sunday to offer a scrap collection service that promises to turn participants’ home food waste into farm-worthy compost. It seems fitting that such a service would be piloted by the Resource Center, which City Farm Manager David Durstewitz says is a nonprofit “founded around the philosophy that we can use the wasted resources around us to improve lives through sustainability, productive employment, and healthy food.” For him and the Resource Center, the Table-to-Farm project felt like a natural extension of their existing programs. In fact, the organization was already collecting scraps from restaurants, stores, farmers markets, and cafeterias around the city to be composted. They already had the infrastructure and facility to accept this material and just had to scale it down for the consumer.

Durstewitz says that the inspiration for the Table-to-Farm program largely came from City Farm’s farmstand and farmers market customers who were looking for help reducing their own waste; they were “happy to be able to fill that need.” Considering broader long term impacts, he says “[The Resource Center] also sees personal investment translating into customer demand for restaurants, stores, etc. to start composting too, or find ways to reduce their food waste to begin with.” So far (since the program’s inception in July of 2015), consumer response has been overwhelmingly positive. One challenge, however, has been explaining why customers must pay a fee ($6 per bucket, or $5 for regular subscribers) for the service; but of course, there are operating costs associated with taking on such a project and employing those who operate it.
Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we will only see composting grow in prevalence across the city. Recent changes to Chicago's composting ordinance that were pushed by AUA and others should help pave the way. I for one am heeding the advice of the Resource Center when they say, “we strongly encourage everybody who values composting to get involved with AUA or directly with the city to build on recent compost legislation, and to talk directly with home composters, community gardens, farms, stores and restaurants to learn what we all need to build a more sustainable waste-diversion system.” 

If you would like your project featured in AUA's Newsletter, write to us at:

Protect our right to share seeds!

Since AUA members approved a proposal last year to support a set of Illinois legislative initiatives that impact urban agriculture, we have been working with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) to pass good urban agriculture policy on the statewide level, with victories in expanding the cottage food law and easing restrictions on compost pickup and collection. Below, ISA Policy Associate Rebecca Osland shares the latest on our shared campaign to protect seed libraries and other non-commercial seed exchanges from unnecessary and costly regulations:

Last year, ISA worked on legislation to exempt seed libraries from the Illinois Seed Law. While those efforts stalled in negotiations, this year, with your help, we are trying again – and going even further! SB3130, sponsored by Senator Sam McCann, exempts all noncommercial interpersonal seed sharing, including seed libraries.

Why is this even a policy issue?! In 2014, state Departments of Agriculture in Pennsylvania and Minnesota attempted to regulate seed libraries under their states’ commercial seed laws, threatening those seed libraries’ very existence. This prompted a grassroots outcry from around the country to protect seed sharing.

Since then, Minnesota passed legislation exempting interpersonal seed sharing, and we need to do the same here. The Seed Law in Illinois includes “giving away” in the definition of “sell,” so there is a risk that the law could be enforced against seed sharing activities here too, though this would be an absurd and inappropriate application of the law. We need to tell our state legislators that informal or community-based seed sharing must not be held to the same requirements as industrial seed companies’ commercial activities!

Seed saving and sharing are vital for food sovereignty, cultural heritage, biodiversity, food security, and minimizing the cost of raising food. To learn more about seed libraries and the Seed Sharing Exemption Bill, please join us for the “Our Seeds are in Need!” panel (co-organized with AUA) at the Good Food Festival and Conference on March 25, and check in at Please also contact your state legislators and ask them to co-sponsor SB3130.
Rebecca Osland, Policy Associate, Illinois Stewardship Alliance

Help AUA Make a Difference!
Become a Member and Donate Today!

Becoming a member of AUA is free and easy! Signing up shows us and the world that you support AUA's Mission & Vision, which gives our coalition greater influence as we advocate for good urban agriculture policy (read the articles below for some recent examples). 

Can't remember if you've already signed up as a member? Have new contact information? Play it safe and simply click here to fill out a few boxes – no need to worry about being counted twice! Remember, membership is separate from being subscribed to our Google Group or this E-Newsletter.

While membership is free, sustained financial support for AUA’s work is essential, so please take a moment donate today. Whether it’s helping to fund website maintenance, printed materials, event costs, or payroll expenses for AUA's dedicated staff, your donation will go a long way towards increasing AUA’s impact. And for evidence of all the great work we do, this newsletter is a pretty good place to start! Plus, donations of $30 or more come with some great benefits – click here to learn more!

Report: AUA Fall Gathering

by Lindsey Claire McNeil

This year’s Fall Gathering was an inspiring and energizing event as AUA guests met at the Institute for Environmental Sustainability at Loyola to participate in the evening focused on Cultivating Knowledge. 

The IES at Loyola is housed primarily within an Ecodome greenhouse and features the largest geothermal cooling and heating installation in Chicago, rainwater harvesting, and high-efficiency heat-recovery technology. As a first-timer in the IES I was immediately drawn to the brightly lit aquaponic tower growing fish and a myriad of herbs and produce. This was only an introduction to the upper level lab, where on our tour we were encouraged to observe the raised beds, tilapia tanks, and worm bins creating a symbiotic relationship, and bolstering the strength of all three.

As we all settled in over a delicious potluck dinner, there was a lovely community slideshow, where, as photos of Chicago growing sites flashed on the projector screen, farmers and gardeners spoke about their resources, production, mission, and goals. This was a warming way to see what Chicago growers are up to and who the faces are behind these all of these exciting projects. 

Dr. Bala Choudhary, from Loyola University, started the presentations off with a thought-provoking talk about cultivating soil biology. She shared her experiences documenting Hopi agricultural practices in Arizona and the Pemón of Venezuela. Both cultures use little to no irrigation and have learned to adapt their farming practices to their desert and rainforest homes.

Kellen Marshall (UIC) spoke about her research documenting air quality around urban farms in Chicago and suggested that urban farmers “consider your farm as its’ own mini-ecosystem” to minimize poor air quality effects on your crops, maximize production. and boost crop quality.

Sarah Hernandez, also of UIC, reported her findings during her project, Diversity in Community Gardens, and summarized that “sustainability includes diversity.” By sampling members of community gardens she learned that racism tends to dissipate upon entering their community garden space. That’s not to say that it completely disappears, but Ms. Hernandez is optimistic about her findings and offered ways to encourage diversity and growth within Chicago’s community gardens. 

Dr. Howard Rosing (DePaul University) brought the last report to the podium, The Chicago Harvest Study. Dr. Rosing recounted how, during a city-wide talk addressing Chicago’s efforts to provide its citizens with more food, he was provoked by an attendee's remark that ;“community gardens are just a drop in the bucket.” He then set out to document exactly how much food community gardens are producing. His report balanced production with nutritional and monetary value of community garden crops grown and came up with some very inspiring results. Dr. Rosing also shared some beautiful accounts of how communities in need share food, rather than looking for a profit.  

All in all, AUA’s Fall Gathering was an exceptional night, warm on the inside as Chicago began to embrace the beginnings of the cold season. Thank you to Loyola for hosting, and also to all of the presenters and urban farmers for showing such an invigorating commitment to urban agricultural practice.

Working Group Updates

Advocacy Working Group

The Advocacy Working Group continues to make steady progress with many of its policy initiatives, including:
  • Working with aldermen like Joe Moore and other stakeholders to develop and pass fixes to Chicago's "weed ordinance".
  • Collaborating with the IL Environmental Council (IEC), our Mapping Project partners, and others to successfully implement the new compost ordinance (AUA Executive Director Billy Burdett and IEC Executive Director Jen Walling will be walking attendees of the Chicago Community Garden Association's Annual Meeting through the ordinance on March 5) – keep an eye out for announcements about raining sessions and Spring registration!
  • Partnering with the Chicago Food Policy Action Council and the Food Chain Workers Alliance to develop a new Good Food Procurement Policy for Chicago, which would direct the City of Chicago to follow a set of criteria for purchasing local, ethical, wholesome food for public facilities such as schools and hospitals (a similar policy was successfully implemented a few years ago in Los Angeles).
  • Coordinating efforts in Chicago to support the Illinois Stewardship Alliance's effort to protect seed libraries and non-commercial seed exchanges from unnecessarily costly and burdensome regulations (see article above). We held a successful convening in November to bring local seed libraries on board and get their input about what the bill should include.

Possibly the most exciting Advocacy news is the recent launch of our Ward Ambassadors Project. The goal of this project is to train a group of people to be knowledgeable representatives of the Chicago urban agriculture community who are effective in communicating with their representative on the City Council. We got a great start at our launch event last month by selecting a 15-ward short list of aldermen who serve on key committees and have demonstrated initial interest in urban ag and local food. We aim to recruit and coordinate Ambassadors in all 50 wards of Chicago. If you are interested in participating, please contact for more information.

Connections Working Group

The Connections Working Group is busy as ever! Closing out 2015, we had a successful online donation drive which helped us meet our financial goals for the year. Thanks to everyone who donated!

Starting out 2016, we have focused on event planning. On February 2, we held a hugely successful Movie & Mingle Night featuring Pilsen's El Paseo Community Garden and the brand new documentary Can You Dig This at Lagunitas Brewery. Great movie! And of course we've been super busy planning this weekend's 4th Annual Urban Livestock Expo and workshops at the Good Food Festival. We will once again be helping to organize the series of workshops held in the Good Food Commons on Saturday, March 26.

Beyond that, we're looking ahead to our Spring Gathering (with a cross-cultural exchange theme) in late April/early May, our 2nd Summer Soiree & Showcase in July or August, urban agriculture tours and fields days, and a ton of community presentations and tabling across the city, but we need your help! Join the effort by contacting us at or coming to our next Connections meeting on March 15 from 5:30 to 7:30PM at Openlands (25 E Washington, Ste. 1650).

Resources Working Group

The Resources Working Group's three main projects continue to make steady progress.

New sections of AUA's Resource Guide covering school gardening, vermicomposting, and intensive gardening are ready for publication in the guide's new platform, which will be launched later this year. Other sections covering aquaponics and urban agriculture business models (compiled by University of Chicago students) are currently being developed. The Resource Guide is a truly collaborative effort and a constant work in progress, so please contact us at if you're interested in contributing! We'll be organizing work parties later this year.

The Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP) is getting ready to welcome a new programmer who will fix some minor problems with the public submission tool (if you submitted info about your garden or farm but haven't yet seen it show up on the map or directory, fear not – it will be up there very soon!), integrate an expanded questionnaire and new search options, and add a registration tool for community gardens and farms that wish to take advantage of new composting opportunities made possible by the new compost ordinance

AUA's website continues to serve as a regularly updated source of helpful information, from job and volunteer opportunities to upcoming urban ag events and workshops to a wide array of local urban ag perspectives on our blog. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, we'd love to hear from you -- click here to get started!
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