A plan to build a worker cooperative greenhouse in western Massachusetts has received a boost with the announcement of purchasing commitments from several large institutions.
Baystate Health, the Springfield Public Schools, and Big Y Supermarkets have agreed in principle to purchase produce from a greenhouse that a non-profit organization hopes to build as part of a network of worker-owned businesses in inner-city Springfield.
The project is being developed by Wellspring Cooperative Corporation. Co-Director Fred Rose said the quarter-acre hydroponic greenhouse will grow lettuce, greens, and herbs.
"The demand for local food is huge," said Rose.
Wellspring is negotiating with the Springfield Redevelopment Authority to build the greenhouse on a 1.7-acre site in the Indian Orchard neighborhood.
" I think it would be an exciting project for the community to move forward with bringing fresh produce to the food deserts of Springfield," said Rose.
In addition to announcing the purchasing partners at a news conference Wednesday, Wellspring also introduced its newly hired greenhouse manager and announced the issuance of a public offering to raise small investments for the project.
" We want people to know that if they want to support this project they can get in touch with us and help with some small financing," said Rose.
He said constructing and equipping the greenhouse, which would have five workers, will cost an estimated $900,000.
Nancy Robinson, Director of Patient Relations and Guest Services for Baystate Health, said purchasing from the proposed greenhouse would satisfy the twin goals of providing patients with more nutritious food and doing more local purchasing.
" So for us this was just a perfect situation and a great win for all sides," she said.
Baystate Health buys about $1.5 million worth of produce annually with 40 percent coming from local farms. But in the wintertime the amount of locally purchased produce falls to 20 percent, according to Robinson. The Wellspring greenhouse would be a year-round supplier.
The availability of local produce throughout the year appeals to Timothy Gray, the food service manager for the Springfield Public Schools.
" This is extremely important for us to supply our students with fresh vegetables and produce form a local source right here in the city," said Gray.
Wellspring said others that have agreed to purchase from the greenhouse include River Valley Co-op in Northampton, Franklin Community Co-op, Squash Trucking, Friends of the Homeless, and the Worcester Public Schools.
The greenhouse would be the second worker cooperative developed by Wellspring.
A furniture upholstery business opened three years ago in Springfield’s South End neighborhood. It has six workers. Customers include Baystate Health and the University of Massachusetts.