Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC), and other community partners are working to ensure a clear and reasonable process for an urban farm business license. The city requires a business license to do business, and urban agriculture is not exempt (believe us, we tried that first!). Currently, urban agriculture entrepreneurs are directed to a variety of licenses that do not suit urban agriculture, including a peddler’s license (which can only be held by a person, not a business, and has restrictions on hours of operation and locations), or a Wholesale Food License (which costs $660 biannually).

After extensive conversations between AUA, CFPAC and the mayor’s office, there is a proposal and WE NEED YOUR INPUT! The proposal is to modify the Mobile Produce Merchant business license to include urban farm businesses. Almost everything about this route looks good:

  • ItImage result for chicago city hall would allow urban farms, even those with permanent structures that are used for food production (such as storage/refrigeration/office space, greenhouses, aquaponic facilities, etc), to obtain a license that costs $125 every 2 years and does not require inspections or certification
  • It would allow farms with this license to have onsite produce stands
  • There are no restrictions on hours of operation or “exclusionary zones” of sales
  • The farm is registered under its business name rather than requiring a license for each owner

HOWEVER, here is where we need your feedback: the issue with this license is it requires that at least 50% of “produce merchant business” be done “within areas underserved by grocery stores”. The city says it is not possible to fully exempt urban farms from this criteria since the license was developed specifically to increase healthy food access in underserved areas. BUT, it is possible to address this requirement in creative ways to ensure that it doesn’t create a major obstacle for urban farming businesses.

We are exploring a list of qualifying criteria, and as long as a farm meets at least ONE of them it would qualify for this license. Please provide your feedback with this brief survey on each of the following possible qualifying criteria. What kind of requirements can you go along with that wouldn’t handcuff your or other urban agriculture operations? How would each affect your operation? What other options can you think of? How could these or other ideas be improved?

  • Reduce the required percentage sold to underserved areas to 20% or a different number
  • Farms located in underserved communities meet the criteria by virtue of their location
  • The farm has at least one employee from an underserved community
  • The farm sells to businesses based in underserved communities
  • Otherwise more broadly defining what “produce merchant business” in “areas underserved by grocery stores” means (for example, “underserved by locally grown food”)
  • Replacing it with a more general requirement to benefit the farm’s community or underserved communities
  • The requirement applies only to farm businesses with a revenue of $X or more
  • The farm is enrolled in the Double Value SNAP coupon program
  • Other ideas?

photo 5In order to determine what could be workable, both for the current urban agriculture landscape and for the one we’re trying to build, we need the input of Chicago’s entire urban agriculture community! Please weigh in on each of the above criteria with this brief survey.

With your ideas and insight, we can ensure a reasonable license that doesn’t handcuff current and future small scale, grassroots, urban farming businesses, regardless of where they’re able to establish their growing operation. Questions? Reach out to info@auachicago! Thanks for contributing to the best possible route for urban farm business licenses!


Click here for City of Chicago Information on Neighborhoods Underserved by Grocery Stores.