Glens Falls, New York (News 10) – You don’t have to drive much in the right direction to discover a traditional farm. Although difficult to see in the middle of winter, North Country has its fair share of cattle and cornfields. However, one place that has not been home to farming is downtown Glens Falls. But that’s all about to change.
22 Ridge Street, part of downtown Glens Falls and home to [farmacy] Restobar, with empty space on its upper floors. It’s the kind of space that’s been left deserted for years or more; It’s the kind that Director of Economic Development Jeff Flagg was looking for when starting a project to bring hydroponic “vertical farming” to the city.
“The idea was that while COVID has shut down everything, you can repurpose this cute place into a small farm,” Flagell said Monday, speaking of the steps in the planning process that occurred at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Then, if the landlord comes in two years later and wants to use or rent that space, you can take it all apart and build it somewhere else.”
The third floor of 22nd Street Ridge is set to become the first-ever home of the Glens Falls Urban Farming Project. The goal is to build an indoor farm there, to grow things like fresh basil, lettuce and fruits, which will go to restaurants and markets nearby, while keeping the food flowing locally. The pilot is supported by a $100,000 Smart Cities Innovation Partnership grant that the city applied for in early 2020.
One of the restaurants that could benefit from the project is its neighbor downstairs [farmacy] Restobar. Any number of other downtown restaurants could see a benefit, too. Flagg says the vertical farm idea would solve the “last mile problem,” a common problem in providing high-quality products to customers who need them.
“We can move things (to the city), but the problem is getting things from a local central warehouse to that last location,” Flagell said. What we’re trying to target are local restaurants, preferably things they can’t get easily. Lots of places say, “I can’t get this stuff for any money.”
If a restaurant needs a reliable source of fresh basil – Flagg’s example – a vertical farm will help them get it without any risk factors associated with transportation time, weather risks, or any other factors that can hinder an already shaky supply chain. The only limits will be those of the size of the operation.
Early this spring, this volume will consist of 300 square feet, divided into two movable shelving units. Each tier of shelves holds trays of water, 2 to 4 inches deep, into which the growing product will be submerged in order to grow. Energy-efficient equipment circulates air and controls humidity.
This is an area where the city is getting some help. Glens Falls has partnered on a vertical farming project with Re-Nuble, a New York City-based regeneration and sustainability company whose Glens Falls vertical farm is as new as it is to the city itself.
“We’ve never been in a pilot program before,” said Tina Pena, founder of Re-Nuble. “Some of the farms we work with are commercial operators, but that allows us to have a pilot farm that we can kind of build out in public, and be transparent with a lot of research looking at what we’re doing. We haven’t really seen research yet invest in how Make food waste a similar entrance to these farms.”
While Glens Falls’ focus is on giving urban farming a home, Re-Nuble’s goal is to give the city energy-efficient and sustainable tools to do so. The group encourages reducing food waste by converting this waste into compostable materials and biodegradable materials. They also helped select the energy-saving equipment, as part of an agreement with the other project collaborator; national network.
“We’re trying to create a model that doesn’t limit these types of farms to one where there is a near-energy geothermal source, or hydropower,” said Pena. “Prioritizing earlier allows us to know the true level of energy efficiency.”
As Pena says, Glens Falls has become a model. The 300-square-foot pilot program will run for a full year, and the resulting results can be recalculated for what a 44,000-square-foot hydroponic farm of the same design could do. This model would be another urban farm that could be used, and also could be used by more traditional farms, such as those in Washington County.
Speaking of those farms, there’s one message both Pina and Flagg want to spread. This project is not intended to replace or diminish what New York Farms has to offer. Instead, the program will complement the existing food flow, providing tools that these traditional farmers can use if they want to expand their own horizons.
“A lot of these farms are energy intensive,” Pena said. 60-70% of its costs are only energy costs. In New York, for a lot of crops, there’s a 6-month growth window.”
The Glens Falls model will give farmers the option to supplement their work with year-round crops grown in hydroponic environments, using one piece of data that has been in short supply: expansion. Pina said that many farmers trying vertical or hydroponic farming options spend money on large areas to do so, which could put them at a disadvantage from the start.
We’re just trying to give them more chances. Or more inspiration, at least,” Pina said.
On your scores, get ready, grow
The ultimate goal of the pilot period is to show whether urban farming is economically viable in Glens Falls. The launch day will be on the third floor of the Ridge Street Building sometime in late March or early April, according to Pena. Flagg estimates that it may take up to summer to actively grow indoors.
One of the questions on Flagg’s mind is how to define the word “local”. If the vertical farm is there to help get that last step to restaurants you can’t get, is the best option to just let the Glens Falls companies get in? Or should neighbors like Queensbury and Lake George also benefit?
“It depends on the size of the facility you are going to build; and secondly, how practical are you willing to connect yourself and still call yourself very local?” said Flagg.
Although it certainly works, the 22 Ridge St. Not perfect. There will be no place. That’s part of the point. Pena noted that if the ceiling in the third floor space was a little higher, the two sets of mounting shelves could fit an additional shelf each. In the future, Flagg likes the idea of expanding, whether to another floor of the building or to another abandoned structure in Glens Falls.
“One of the problems (with the Ridge Street space) is that it’s a third-floor driveway,” Flagell said. “There is no elevator in the building. This, by its nature, makes it imperfect.”
This wasn’t the first time Flag and the city had talked about embarking on an urban farming program, and 22 Ridge Street wasn’t the first location the city thought of. This honor gTo an old blacksmith’s shop at 56 Glen Street, which was recently considered as a potential cannabis dispensary by a local businessman. Another candidate is the South Street Incubator Building, which is currently slated to be used as part of the South Street Marketplace project.
Once the pilot is out for a year, Flagg doesn’t quite know who will run the vertical farm. Its charm is that whether it is in the Ridge, Glen or South Street, there are buildings almost anywhere that could accommodate a project like this. This is true wherever you go.
“I don’t know if you want another one here. The idea is that if you can do it here, why can’t you do it in Plattsburgh? Why can’t you do it in Schohaire? Why can’t you do it at Saranac Lake or Taber Lake or Utica? Or anywhere? All these places in the north of the country have underutilized or underutilized space that could be repurposed for something like that.”