New farm in St. Paul to fast-track local food

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 4, 2012 - 7:44 PM

The 38,000-square-foot greenhouse will provide veggies to Cub Foods by this fall.

Produce grown on an industrial lot in St. Paul should be hitting store shelves this fall, said organizers of the city's latest urban farming venture.

Mayor Chris Coleman and others broke ground Monday for a 38,000-square-foot greenhouse at the J&J Distributing site on Rice Street, just north of University Avenue. Lettuce, tomatoes and herbs will be grown year-round hydroponically, a soil-free method dependent on a circulating water system. The greenhouse will rely heavily on captured rainwater.

New York-based BrightFarms will operate the greenhouse and J&J Distributing will process and distribute the produce, which will be sold at area Cub Foods grocery stores.

Promoters said the arrangement will cut transportation time and fuel costs associated with conventional farming.

"BrightFarms believes communities are strengthened when produce is grown and consumed in the community," said BrightFarms CEO Paul Lightfoot.

Organizers are banking on the "local" factor as a selling point, because the cost of the greenhouse produce might not differ much from others. Although it's up to the retailer to set prices, Lightfoot said the produce will be comparably priced to organic produce grown elsewhere.

That's due to high start-up costs, fair wages and an inability to compete with large conventional farms, said BrightFarms spokeswoman Kate Siskel.

J&J President and CEO Jim Hannigan said he's confident price won't be a deterrent.

"I'm sure they'll support local," Hannigan said of consumers. "What you have to look at is the cost-savings to the environment, the community."

Greenhouse construction is expected to finish in September, and packaged lettuce should be available in the fall.

The greenhouse is expected to yield more than 350,000 pounds of produce a year, employ six people and create 50 jobs during construction.

J&J received $500,000 from the St. Paul Community Development Block Grant Recovery Act for the greenhouse, and some city funds via the state Jobs Bill Tax Increment Financing to expand its facility.

Chuck Lynch, senior vice president of operations at Cub Foods, said stores near the greenhouse will sell the produce, which will include the new "St. Pauli Boy" tomatoes. It's unclear how many of the metro's 58 stores will carry the produce.

BrightFarms runs a greenhouse on Long Island, and is building the country's largest rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn.

Lightfoot said the company hopes to construct more greenhouses in the Twin Cities.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708; Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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