BERLIN — Largely hidden from view, North Country Growers is completing the site work for its greenhouse project and hopes to begin construction of the first greenhouse next month.
A subsidiary of American Ag Energy, NCG is proposing to build and operate two 10-acre greenhouses that will produce 15 million heads of lettuce and 8 million pounds of tomatoes annually.
Last August, AB Construction of Lancaster began the site work including the main road and the water and sewer connections. American Ag Energy CEO Richard Rosen said he expects the site work to be completed within the next month. He noted with pride that many people are unaware of the work underway on the 172-acre site, which is set back from the East Side Road. He said everything is being done properly and any dust from the work is being controlled.
“They are doing a magnificent job,” he said.
Rosen said he anticipates holding a ribbon cutting in July when they start constructing the first greenhouse. He explained that the lettuce greenhouse will go up first. He expects it to be finished by November and will do some test runs before moving into commercial operation next spring.
“You should do it a few times before you sell it,” he said.
Once the first greenhouse is done, Rosen said they will immediately start the second. He anticipates the tomato greenhouse will be finished in spring 2033. His ultimate goal is to have 50 acres of greenhouse here and Rosen said he has identified other sites in Berlin and Milan.
Rosen notes 95 percent of tomatoes and lettuce at super markets come from California, Mexico, Arizona, and Florida and it takes five to six days to get to market. He will serve the New England market with produce picked just the day before.
He said the operation will employ about 80 full time people and Rosen said he will pay good wages and benefits including possibly child care. He expects to start interviewing potential employees this fall.
Rosen and North Country Growers have worked almost six years to get to this stage. Rosen said it was a “very complicated” project with a lot of impediments and praised city officials for being supportive.
The company went through nine options on the city-owned property before purchasing it for $645,000 at the end of 2020. The state legislature passed a bill authorizing NCG to negotiate a 20-year payment-in-lieu of tax agreement with the city that allows annual payments that are lower in the early years as the facility is built and then increase in later years.
Rosen praised city officials for being supportive.
As described, the greenhouse project is a self-contained, sustainable growing enterprise that reuses its waste products. Rainwater collected off the roof and snow melt are recycled for irrigation. Waste heat is recycled to heat greenhouses, and the project will use the C02 emissions to generate power. A generation plant would tap into the natural gas pipeline, producing an estimated 8.8 megawatts of electrical power primarily to be used by the facility.