Springfield indoor farm to boost access to locally grown produce

A climate-controlled, indoor farm slated for Springfield is expected to boost access to locally grown produce and create about 2.4 million packages of fresh herbs and leafy greens annually.

The products produced at the farm, which will consist of 20 storage containers, will be exclusively sold and distributed to institutions and stores throughout the region, including in the Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati areas.

The new indoor farm is a result of a partnership between indoor farming company Square Roots and large food distributer Gordon Food Service. The 11,200 square foot facility will be located on the property of Gordon’s existing food distribution center in Springfield.

Indoor farming has gained traction in recent years, particularly in urban areas, as it doesn’t require much land space. It can simulate climate conditions that allows for year-round growing by using different light sources, balancing nutrients and creating a water source.

Cox Enterprises, the News-Sun’s parent company, owns BrightFarms, an indoor farm operation in Wilmington.

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Due to the nature of indoor farming, startup costs associated with those operations can be expensive, said Pam Corle-Bennett, an associate professor at the Ohio State University. The costs are driven by the size of the operation, equipment and building costs associated with housing the farm, providing lighting, climate controls as well as hydroponics.

Representatives of Square Roots and Gordon Food Service have not publicly disclosed how much it will cost to build the indoor farm in Springfield or how much money will be invested in that growing operation.

However, depending on how successful the operation is, it can increase the amount of food being distributed out of Gordon’s food distribution center in the area as produce grown at the indoor farm will also be distributed to regional grocery stores.

It will be the only food growing operation at the food distribution center in Springfield, which has a little more than 500 employees, said Mark Schurman, a spokesperson for Gordon Food Service. The 25 people that will be hired as a result of the indoor farm will be employed by Square Roots.

But, a benefit that it will have to the community is that it will allow for year-round fresh produce that is grown locally, said Corle-Bennett, who is also the chair of the Clark County Local Foods Council.

“We are very supportive of something like this coming in because it is about buying local,” she said.

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The first harvest at the farm will start this summer, and there is no immediate plans to expand the indoor farm once it is in full operation, said John Kell, a spokesperson for Square Roots. The focus for the company has been on expanding into new markets. This is the company’s fourth farm built in partnership with Gordon Food Service and will be the second Square Roots’ indoor farm slated to open this year.

“The new farm we’ve announced with Square Roots in Springfield accelerates our shared vision to build more indoor farms together across the continent,” said Rich Wolowski, president and CEO of Gordon Food Service. “Together, we are enabling local food at a global scale, meeting the rising demand for produce that is fresher, responsibly grown, and traceable from seed to shelf.”

It will use Square Roots’ smart-farm technology platform and software-controlled hydroponic growing systems with the aims of producing more food with fewer resources year round, said representatives of Square Roots. They stated that their approach uses 95% less water than conventional field farms and features repurposed urban infrastructure.

“Our partnership with Gordon Food Service, combined with our scalable smart-farm technology platform, means Square Roots is able to rapidly open a number of new indoor farms this year,” said Tobias Peggs, Co-Founder and CEO of Square Roots. “With this new facility in Springfield, we are now making locally-grown food available, all year, to new consumers across Ohio, while also creating exciting jobs in the community.”

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