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Construction Of Worker-Owned Cooperative Greenhouse Underway

An artist's rendering depicts the finished Wellspring Harvest worker cooperative greenhouse at the actual construction site in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, MA.

Lettuce, greens, and herbs will soon be growing at a location in Springfield, Massachusetts that was once dangerously polluted. 

A worker-owned cooperative commercial greenhouse is under construction at the site of the former Chapman Valve Co. where components for nuclear weapons were manufactured. Many years of soil removal and remediation were required to rid all traces of radioactivity from the property.

Tucked away in a light industrial area of the Indian Orchard neighborhood, the site is a perfect location for the 15,120-square foot greenhouse, according to Fred Rose, co-director of Wellspring Cooperative.

"In a few short months it will be up and we'll be growing lettuce," he said.

The greenhouse will use hydroponic technology to grow local produce year round.

Wellspring Harvest is organized as a for-profit worker-owned cooperative business that will provide job training and employment to low-income residents of Springfield.       

     " The idea is people come and work for a year and if it is a good fit they can buy in and be a member of the co-op.  It will start with five people with plans to grow to nine," explained Rose.                  

The greenhouse project cost $1 million, according to Rose.

" It is going to be profitable, we have a very detailed business plan," said Rose. "We have negotiated price and quantity with our customers so we have a good idea of the market."

Large customers for the greenhouse include Baystate Medical Center, the Springfield and Worcester Public Schools, the Big Y Supermarkets, and grocery coops in Northampton and Greenfield.

Kevin Barry, the director of produce and flowers at Big Y said he expects to buy 50-100 cases of greens a week from the greenhouse.

"The opportunity to buy produce from an operation right in Springfield is very important to us and not only that but they are providing jobs for underprivileged people," said Barry. " It is just a great project we wanted to get involved in."

The greenhouse will produce an estimated 250,000 heads of lettuce and other plants a year.

Stephen Hilyard, who is the greenhouse manager, said he’ll set aside an area to custom grow crops for chefs and home cooks.

Most of the former Chapman Valve property is covered by a large solar farm. Zaida Govan, president of the Indian Orchard Citizens Council, said she’s thrilled the rest of the blighted land has been redeveloped by the Wellspring Cooperative.

" The neighbors are invested in it and really excited to see it going," said Govan.

The greenhouse will be the third worker-owned business developed by the Wellspring Cooperative in Springfield.  The others are furniture reupholstery and window restorations.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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