This Decrepit Lot Is the Future Site of the World’s Largest Urban Greenhouse

A 100,000-square-foot facility in D.C.’s Anacostia will produce 1 million pounds of produce a year and provide up to 25 permanent jobs.

In a few short months, this pile of waste will be the site of a 2.3-acre greenhouse.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
May 5, 2014, 1 a.m.

It looks like a war zone, not the fu­ture of sus­tain­able farm­ing.

Two 20-foot-tall piles of razed rubble, twis­ted met­al, and warped wood are the back­drops. A gnarled bi­cycle and dozens of un­matched shoes nearly hid­den by over­grown prair­ie grass and weeds lit­ter the ground between three large, white ship­ping con­tain­ers that be­long more on a freight­er than in a city lot on the edge of Wash­ing­ton’s south­east­ern bor­der.

But in a few months, this aban­doned lot in the Anacos­tia neigh­bor­hood of the cap­it­al city will be­come home to the world’s largest urb­an green­house, even­tu­ally pro­du­cing tons of pro­duce, cre­at­ing dozens of new jobs, and provid­ing fresh food to areas in need.

The 100,000-square-foot green­house (close to 2.3 acres) will pro­duce 1 mil­lion pounds of pro­duce — in­clud­ing to­ma­toes on the vine, leafy-green mixes, and a vari­ety of herbs — for 30 Gi­ant gro­cery stores in the great­er D.C. area. It’s be­ing fun­ded by New York-based Bright­Farms, which builds and runs green­houses and rooftop farms that then sell pro­duce to loc­al gro­cery chains.

So far, Bright­Farms either has built or plans to build green­houses and rooftop farms in New York, Chica­go, St. Paul, Ok­lahoma City, St. Louis, In­di­ana­pol­is, and Kan­sas City. Their first green­house — a 56,000-square-foot­er — is in Bucks County, Pa.

Usu­ally, Gi­ant and oth­er gro­cery stores have highly per­ish­able pro­duce shipped from far away. That re­quires ex­tens­ive meas­ures to keep the pro­duce fresh, adding trans­port­a­tion and en­ergy costs. Just take lettuce: It’s usu­ally grown in Ari­zona or Cali­for­nia, and shipped in near-freez­ing trucks that have to travel thou­sand of miles.

Add that to the com­mon prob­lems fa­cing cit­ies — poorer neigh­bor­hoods can be food deserts, with few­er gro­cery stores of­fer­ing fresh pro­duce — and these green­houses are a com­pet­it­ive op­tion for loc­al gro­cers who want to change the way that pro­duce is grown and dis­trib­uted in this coun­try.

“It’s bring­ing a farm to the part of the city that really hasn’t ex­per­i­enced that be­fore.”

“We can make a mean­ing­ful im­pact on the food sup­ply chain and help im­prove it, lessen the en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact, and im­prove the health, the safety, and the qual­ity of our pro­duce that’s avail­able,” said Toby Tikt­in­sky, Bright­Farms’ dir­ect­or of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment.

The green­house will provide 20 to 25 per­man­ent jobs in D.C. and more than 100 con­struc­tion jobs, ac­cord­ing to Bright­Farms.

Part of the con­struc­tion work will be to clear the mess that is the cur­rent spot. Owned by the Dis­trict of Columbia, the site has been used by the De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation for stor­age and by the De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion for tem­por­ary leaf col­lec­tion. For the last sev­er­al years, however, con­struc­tion com­pan­ies not as­so­ci­ated with the Dis­trict have used it for il­leg­al dump­ing.

The neigh­bor­hood, too, has had its fair share of is­sues — high un­em­ploy­ment, in­creased crime, and a lack of fresh-food op­tions. Bright­Farms kept this in mind when it de­cided to part­ner with D.C., Tikt­in­sky said.

“We con­sciously tar­get areas where we can make a pos­it­ive dif­fer­ence in the com­munity in terms of provid­ing jobs and also healthy pro­duce,” Tikt­in­sky con­tin­ues. “We find a site that’s un­der­u­til­ized and add value to it.”

Bright­Farms is part­ner­ing with the city’s De­part­ment of Gen­er­al Ser­vices and the Anacos­tia Eco­nom­ic De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion to build the green­house. Part of the deal to bring the green­house to D.C. also in­volves selling some of the pro­duce to loc­al groups at a sub­sid­ized rate.

The space will also be used for loc­al stu­dents to learn about sus­tain­able farm­ing through tours and classroom tu­tori­als. “It’s bring­ing a farm to the part of the city that really hasn’t ex­per­i­enced that be­fore,” said Jam­ie Miller, a spokes­man for Gi­ant.

Con­struc­tion is sched­uled to start in late sum­mer and will take four to five months to com­plete, trans­form­ing this mu­ni­cip­al waste­land in­to the latest ex­ample of sus­tain­able urb­an de­vel­op­ment. (Artist Ren­der­ing/Bright­Farms)

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