The rich soil of the Midwest can grow just about anything. Including, apparently, dollar bills. In fact, to grow those, one doesn't even need a plot of land.
A skyscraper-and-concrete landscape is an unlikely place for farmers to set up shop. Yet there are at least 1,705 farmers in the city. Or, at least, that's how many Chicago-based people and groups cash federal farm subsidy checks, according to the Environmental Working Group, a think tank that tracks farm subsidies.
EWG's report found farmers in surprising places. Look at the cramped quarters of the 60611 zip code. That 1.6-square-mile stretch contains an estimated 24,744 people (the city-data.com Web site calls it "100 percent urban"). But, apparently, there's always room for a few crops.
According to EWG, three of the Top 10 farm subsidy recipients in the Chicago metro area list 60611 as their home ZIP code. These include Theodore D. Tieken Jr. (who brought home $286,415 in federal assistance between 2003-2005), Nancy Tieken ($222,688) and Elizabeth Kirkpatrick ($222,688). Good work if you can get it.
It's not just individuals cashing subsidy checks. Over in the 60604 ZIP code (also 100 percent urban) are two farms in EWG's Top 10: F & J Farms and Frymire Farms Inc. It's difficult to imagine what these farms are raising in this ZIP code, since the things that grow best here seem to be tall structures, including the Metcalfe and Kluczynski Federal Buildings. But these "farmers" are certainly raking in the cash.
Of course, individuals and farms aren't the only recipients of Washington's largesse. In fact, plenty of that funding is, literally, for the birds.
Seven "habitat foundations" made EWG's Top 40 list for Chicago subsidy recipients. These include the Green Wing Teal Habitat Foundation, Blue Wing Teal Habitat Foundation (why save birds with one wing color and not save birds with a different wing color?), Ringbill Habitat Foundation, Wood Duck Habitat Foundation, Gadwall Habitat Foundation, Pintail Habitat Foundation and Mallard Habitat Foundation. EWG says these conservation groups have pulled in more than a million dollars combined in federal farm subsidies the last three years.
All these groups have something in common: They're all part of the Wetlands Initiative, a non-profit organization founded in 1994 "to focus restoration efforts and funds on reversing the environmental damage created by the drainage of wetlands in the upper Midwest."