Wellspring is preparing to the first commercial greenhouse in the City of Springfield. Phase 1 will include a quarter acre (10,400 square foot) hydroponic greenhouse that will bring healthy, locally produced produce to area hospitals, schools, businesses, and residents. The greenhouse will be organized as a for-profit worker-owned cooperative business that will provide job training and employment to low-income residents of Springfield.
The greenhouse will produce an estimated 250,000 plants a year (lettuce, greens, and herbs). The business plan has been developed in close collaboration with community and institutional partners around their produce purchasing needs. The first greenhouse will grow a small number of crops with substantial demand, including greens, some lettuce varieties, herbs and cucumbers. As our market grows, Wellspring will build additional greenhouses to expand crops and increase production.
The production greenhouse will be supplemented by an educational greenhouse designed to provide horticulture training to community members and students. This educational greenhouse will be designed in partnership with the Springfield Public Schools and the Springfield Parks Department.
Wellspring’s Cooperative Greenhouse addresses a number of social and environmental needs in the region and will contribute to economic and ecological well-being. Wellspring responds to the need for environmentally sustainable, season-extending food production that can produce at scale so that New England can achieve greater food independence despite its short growing season. Greenhouse production in Massachusetts remains small, with only 9 greenhouses in the state in 2007 of the size that Wellspring is proposing. Total production of greenhouse vegetables and herbs is less than 2% of the state’s agricultural production, while many greens and herbs are only available from farms for 30-50% of the year. Institutional markets can provide stable, large scale demand which will enable greenhouses to build the capacity to produce at scale, and therefore at more affordable prices.
The Wellspring urban greenhouse also responds to the urgent need to create entry-level jobs in Springfield and to enable workers to accumulate assets to invest in housing, education, and better health. Wellspring’s worker cooperatives provide job training and stable employment as well as profit sharing for low-income Springfield residents who have few opportunities to advance economically. Financial stability and employment are closely correlated with better eating and better health, and so Wellspring’s job creation work is an important complement to increased access to nutritious food in the city.
Finally, Wellspring will help hospitals, schools, universities and communities reach their public health goals. Institutional food purchasers are seeking local produce in response to a number of pressures, which is creating an unmet demand for year-round greenhouse production.
Hospitals have a new mandate to maintain population health in the federal Affordable Care Act, which means new attention to nutrition both inside the hospital and in the community as a critical element in addressing epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Public schools and colleges are also looking for healthier, fresh food alternatives in response to the demands of parents, students and health professionals.