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Urban farming in Chicago: 1,500 plants seized at outdoor pot farm

October 04, 2012|By Michael Muskal

City planners, nutritionists and others have been pushing urban farming in recent years, but the movement appears to have taken a different twist in Chicago. Police there have seized about 1,500 plants worth as much as $10 million from an outdoor marijuana farm.

The plants were growing on an area the size of two football fields near Bishop Ford Freeway on the city’s far South Side. A police helicopter spotted the bright green plants from the air and, by Wednesday, authorities had confirmed the finding and taken control of the plants.

No arrests have been made, but the investigation is continuing into what officials told reporters was one of the city’s largest such outdoor busts.

PHOTOS: Sophisticated drug smuggling tunnel

In Chicago, urban density and windy climes conspire to make outdoor commercial farming a difficult industry for any grower, but especially for such a large marijuana operation.

Chicago Police Officer Stan Kuprianczyk, a pilot, said official helicopters flew “over it all the time,” to and from their hangar. On Tuesday, they got a lucky break, Cook County Sheriff's Deputy Edward Graney told reporters at a Wednesday news conference.

“We had the right altitude, the right angle, the right sunlight, and I happened to be glancing down,” Graney said. “We just happened to be right over a small hole in the trees and we looked down,” Kuprianczyk said.

The area is near a freeway, but it's in an industrial zone that has few pedestrians. Further, even though marijuana plants grow to a height usually associated with some professional athletes, the plants were hidden by long grasses. Even from the highway, the contraband was unseen, officials said.

“If it wasn't for the helicopter unit, we would have never found it,” Nick Roti, chief of the Police Department's bureau of organized crime, said at the news conference.

Authorities said they were hoping tipsters would start to come forward with leads about who was observed working the area. A man was seen running from the scene when the helicopter swooped in to investigate, but he has yet to be identified.

City workers, including some from the forestry and sanitation departments, spent Wednesday cutting down the plants, which were to be burned. A chemical will also be put on the ground to prevent future cultivation.

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