Sustainable PR client Dr. Jeff Flagg, Glens Falls Urban Agriculture Pilot, spoke with Foothills Business Daily about the vertical farm project and Glens Falls’ vision to convert abandoned buildings into indoor farming projects:
A lot of projects bounce around the mind of Councilman Bill Collins: the year-round farmers market planned for South Street in Glens Falls, the plan for LED street lights, the traffic signal coordination project, and even urban agriculture.
The Glens Falls Common Council’s Sustainability Committee, which Collins chairs, has won a $96,700 New York State Technology Innovation grant to grow crops inside an empty building in Glens Falls.
Or, more accurately, to grow them in a room. The grant funds just 300 square feet.
The vision is that empty buildings thoughout the city might be used to grow vegetables or fruits beyond northern New York’s natural growing season. The grant, along with donations of time and money, will help the committee learn if there is a sustainable business model that others might follow.
“There’s no long-term desire for the city to get into the farming business,” Collins said. The plan is to figure out which plants can be grown and how much farming can be done indoors.
“The city has created a nice ‘ecosystem’ for these sorts of projects,” said Jeff Flagg, a consultant on the project. Flagg had taken the lead in pursuit of the grant.
The grant must be matched by the partner city, but it will not be matched through taxes. The community must provide about $60,000 of in-kind donations, time and space, and they must find another $40,000 elsewhere from business partners or other organizations. Volunteers will be needed for this project.
The $200,000 total is enough to build a large gardening box inside a room controlled for temperature and light with access to plenty of water. According to the grant proposal, the city is looking to attempt vertical agriculture using highly effcient HVAC, lighting and moisture circulation.
Flagg and Collins are looking for partners to donate space, or offer reduced rent, and Flagg said he is hoping to work out a deal with the National Grid power company to help with the cost of energy, which could be significant.
They will be looking for other volunteers, perhaps students with SUNY Adirondack’s culinary program as well as members of the public.
“I’ve got to find a farmer,” Flagg said.
The farmer will oversee the production of…something, something that does not compete with local farms, something, perhaps, that is exotic or requires a different climate than northern New York provides.
One of a few locations the city is looking at is the third floor of 18-22 Ridge Street, empty offices above the [farmacy] Restobar.
Christina Richards, who owns the restaurant with her husband A.J., said she has been a go-between with the city and the building’s owner, Brian Bronzino.
“Mr. Bronzino thinks it is an interesting idea, especially for specialty foods that maybe are not suited for our climate,” Christina Richards wrote in an email, adding, Bronzino is a supporter of innovative approaches.
She wrote that she is not too familiar with the details, but the farm-to-table concept and the chance at exotic produce could get the restaurant and staff involved.
As part of the grant, the committee has reached out to technology companies to design the space and decide on the best equipment. No company has been chosen as a partner yet. Flagg said they hope to have people ready to plan and build by January 1.
The project fails if it cannot be repeated elsewhere, Flagg said. “We want this to be a replicable model.”