The Glens Falls Common Council’s Sustainability Community acquires funds to install a vertical farm in downtown Glens Falls, New York
The Glens Falls Common Council’s Sustainability Committee secured a New York State Technology Innovation grant intended to help communities across New York State pursue a green path of recovery through the post-COVID era of economic transition. The Committee envisioned using empty buildings throughout the city of Glens Falls to grow produce beyond northern New York’s natural growing season. The nearly $100,000 grant would be used to fund the pilot project, which became known as the Glens Falls Urban Agriculture Pilot.
Jeff Flagg, PhD, formerly a consultant on the project and now Economic Development Director for the City of Glens Falls, led the Sustainability Committee in pursuing the grant. The vertical farm will be housed above Farmacy Restobar, a local restaurant on the third floor of 22 Ridge Street. The committee also hired a farmer with experience in urban and hydroponic farming to manage the project. If the economics of the pilot project worked, the model could be replicated in communities around the greater North Country region.
Of the 10 municipal projects that were funded, Glens Falls’ vertical farming pilot was the only project developed as a commercial venture. Glens Falls would not be getting into the farming business, so they needed to secure community buy-in. Once the grant funds were expended and the pilot project completed, the farmer could take over the site and continue growing produce as a commercial enterprise.
Part of the challenge was clearly communicating to the public that the farm was only a pilot, and the grant covered just a small available lot within an existing building downtown. It was important that the public understood the city’s role in spearheading a vertical farm and its tangible, sustainable value — repurposing old buildings in the city, expanding local farming capacity, and saving emissions on transporting produce. Glens Falls was not in the farming business, but rather looking to create a new economic development model for communities in Upstate New York.
Generating public interest was also imperative because in order to ensure the farm’s viability, the city would have to match the state grant. However, the city could not raise these funds through taxes, meaning the local community would have to provide about $60,000 of in-kind donations, time, and space, and raise another $40,000 from business partners or other organizations. Volunteers were also needed to help with the project.
Dr. Flagg needed to create public awareness around the project, but struggled to sustain a “news hook.” The project would be taking place over months as the team awaited the building of the farm, delivery of equipment, and the growth of produce. He needed the help of a public relations agency to sustain a media cadence and generate interest in the sustainability value for the community. He also needed help with the messaging around the project, so that it could successfully transition from a municipal-funded project into a commercial venture.
The Sustainability Committee tapped Sustainable PR to raise public awareness of the Glens Falls Urban Agriculture Pilot. Sustainable PR principal Tony DeFazio had previously promoted the city’s LED streetlight conversion project. Dr. Flagg recognized DeFazio’s experience in the private sector and believed he could bring the expertise needed to create a public relations campaign for an extensively commercial venture.
Sustainable PR was successful in creating community awareness and keeping the Glens Falls Urban Agriculture Pilot in the public eye without oversaturating the local media.
DeFazio reached out to various constituent groups all while engaging local journalists for earned media coverage and raising awareness and conversation surrounding the project on social media platforms. Media outlets like ABC News10 and Times Union featured the project in early 2022, soon followed by Albany Business Journal, which shared news of the vertical farm to millions of readers.
Working closely with the Committee’s communications team, Sustainable PR helped to distribute a public online survey that targeted key stakeholders and influencers who would be interested in locally grown, high-quality produce. The agency also coordinated key messaging with project partner Re-Nuble, an agricultural technology company that uses its organic cycling science technology to transform unrecoverable vegetative food byproducts into a platform of sustainable technologies for soilless farming.
Overall, Sustainable PR helped maintain a consistent and appropriate level of community excitement and interest, and consulted the Committee on a media strategy that successfully managed information and expectations. As the project moves forward, Sustainable PR will continue deploying outreach strategies for various constituencies.