USA - Indiana - 'FARMacy' Restaurant/Greenhouse To Launch Here, With Global Hopes

USA - Indiana - 'FARMacy' Restaurant/Greenhouse To Launch Here, With Global Hopes

Seth Slabaugh, Muncie Star Sept. 6, 2019

Glynn and Kellie Barber stand in a client's greenhouse in Daleville.

(Photo: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press)

MUNCIE, Ind. — Glynn Barber, an urban-agriculture entrepreneur, sets a container of ripe, black-cherry heirloom tomatoes on the conference table in his Briarwood Lane office on a recent morning.

"Do me a favor," he says. "Take one of those tomatoes home and set it in a window. Tell me if it rots. I guarantee it will never rot, it won't draw the first gnat, it won't draw fungus, it won't draw mold. It'll dry out, and take almost a year to do it, guaranteed."

Besides being sweet and juicy, he believes the tomatoes taste so clean and pack so many nutrients that it warrants marketing them —and similarly grown produce — as "pharmaceutical grade."

Pending city council rezoning approval and the issuance of building permits, Barber intends to construct a $5 million to $8 million prototype aquaponics greenhouse, restaurant and exercise facility, to be called FARMacy, on West Jackson Street, a block west of the St. Mary's Church.

Barber has patented an aquaponics system — a combination of aquaculture, or raising fish in tanks, and hydroponics, or raising plants in troughs of water — called Environmentally Controlled Sustainable Integrated Agriculture (ECSIA).

The cherry tomatoes used in his demonstration to The Star Press were raised in an ECSIA greenhouse in Daleville doing business as Healthy Life Organics.

Barber's greenhouse systems also are operating in a number of other locations across the country — including one owned by the city of East Chicago; the North Central Indiana Teen Challenge in Elkhart; Wapahani High School; and Urban REAP in Waco, Texas — plus Haiti.

Tomatoes grow year-round inside a Daleville greenhouse. (Photo: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press)

And Barber has much, much bigger plans.

The Muncie FARMacy is intended to be a model for 50 to 75 more of these facilities to be built across the country over the next three to five years, says another person at the conference table, venture capitalist Peter Florio, of Capital Gains Corp., Palm Harbor, Fla.

"Peter brought 100 percent of the money to the table," Barber said.

"Looking at these products," Florio said of the ECSIA system and related ventures, "I can tell you it's probably a long time before anybody catches up with the technology or innovation. It really is that far ahead. It's so far advanced and run so efficiently that it's not close to the realm of traditional aquaponics. We think it's huge. We see it as a global market."

Peter Florio, Palm Harbor, Fla., is an investor in Glynn and Kellie Barber's planned aquaponics chain. (Photo: Seth Slabaugh, The Star Press)

Capital Gains Corp. says it is planning an initial investment of $200 million. The company is associated with Barclay Group, a real estate firm with the same Palm Harbor street address as Capital Gains. Barclay Group's name appears on FARMacy architectural drawings by EMPAD Architecture, Clearwater, Fla.

Daleville aquaponics startup grows powerhouse food

The FARMacy facility in Muncie would include a juice bar and The Blue Crayz restaurant with seating for 67 patrons; two research labs; a commercial kitchen for locally made food products like barbecue sauce; an exercise center with patented, low-impact machines; and a 9,000-square-feet aquaponics greenhouse, to contain about four fish tanks, 90 troughs and 450 growing trays.

"To help us tell our story, the restaurant name, The Blue Crayz, was chosen as spin from the fresh water lobster, also known as the Australian red claw crayfish, that is grown in our system underneath the floating plants," said another person at the conference table, Barber's wife Kellie. "It is also one of our mascot cartoon characters used in the educational materials and coloring books for children."

An architectural rendition of the proposed FARMacy facility in Muncie. (Photo: Photo provided)

The restaurant will offer salad blends using greens for healthy diets targeting individual health concerns, such as diabetes, hypertension, and gastrointestinal disorders, she said.

"We also will offer several healthy, chemical-free protein options to add to salads … With the nutrient-dense, intense-flavored produce we grow, we guarantee you won’t have a tasteless salad from our restaurant," she went on.

Glynn Barber gives a demonstration, piling leafy greens onto a scale on the conference-room table. "Two ounces is a lot of greens," he says, as it takes him a couple of handfuls to tip the scale at two ounces.

The FARMacy will include a drive-thru window where Barber envisions customers picking up two-ounce salads of healthy fruits and vegetables prescribed by doctors. 

"This product will keep for weeks," Barber said. "The shelf life on our product is fantastic, the reason being it is so nutrient dense it doesn't rot or draw pests. We are growing pharmacy-grade food. We are not out to compete with the big-box stores. We're literally looking at food-prescription-type programs."

The salads won't include lettuce. It's not nutrient-dense enough.

The Healthy Life Organics ESCIA greenhouse in Daleville, for example, grows produce that ranks high on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of "powerhouse fruits and vegetables," including watercress (No. 1), chard (No. 3), chives (No. 14), kale (No. 15), arugula (No. 18), tomatoes (No. 27), and strawberries (No. 30).

A Daleville-based aquaponic greenhouse grows a variety of vegetables year-round. (Photo: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press)

Longevity spinach, turnip greens and beets are among many other crops Barber's systems are growing.

Powerhouse foods are strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk on the basis of 17 nutrients of public health importance, such as fiber, protein and vitamins A, B-12 and C.

"We are targeting disease with fruits and vegetables," Barber said, holding up a copy of the book "Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself."

Barber has approached a major heath insurance company about coverage for "prescription food." He's also working with local doctors and faculty at Ball State University.

Glynn and Kellie Barber are growing food to fight disease.  (Photo: Seth Slabaugh, The Star Press)

Glynn and Kellie Barber are growing food to fight disease. (Photo: Seth Slabaugh, The Star Press)

"I am a huge advocate for this food production system and believe it can transform communities," Scott Truex, an associate professor of urban planning at Ball State and co-founder of the Sustainable Communities Institute, told The Star Press. "All of these projects integrate the ECSIA system with other value-adding objectives that we believe will allow a community to create a new food eco-system that is a catalyst for change."

The institute believes that food, water, and energy are the triggers to transform a community.

"When a community must depend on systems that can fail at any moment, its members are vulnerable," the institute says. "Systems must be developed that maximize resources and build wealth for the local economy, rather than outsourcing the resources to Wall Street."

► BSU students build mobile greenhouse

Here's how the ESCIA system works: fish waste is mineralized to make nutrient-rich water that flows into troughs where plants float in growing trays. Freshwater lobsters, aka crayfish, eat the dead ends on the plant roots. Plant-filtered water flows back to the fish tank, fresh and clean, after going through a water-polishing system.

Barber says FARMacy's 9,000-square-feet aquaponics greenhouse — much larger than the "satellite" or "family farmer" greenhouses like the ones at Wapahani, East Chicago and Elkhart — can replicate a 40-acre farm field while using less water than a family of four, while operating on only 22 amps of power.

Members of a Gary church visits the Teen Challenge ECSIA greenhouse in Elkhart. (Photo: Photo provided)

The FARMacy's "farmer's commercial" greenhouse module is designed to grow up to 3,600 pounds of produce weekly, along with 4,800 pounds of yellow perch annually.

"That's a lot of salad," Barber said. "We don't mention a lot about aquaculture because we don't grow enough fish to make a dent. The fish are just a nutrient source for us. We're much like a pet store. We're not breeding fish, not raising fish, we are feeding fish and mineralizing that fish waste to grow fruits and vegetables."

The IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital Foundation will ask city council at its Sept. 9 meeting to approve a change in zoning to allow construction of the FARMacy project in the 2500 blocks of West Jackson/Main streets, south of BMH. The foundation owns the property, which is mostly vacant lots used for storage.

"We are excited to lease the land for a project which has the potential to improve access to fresh produce, forge community partnerships and provide a mechanism for health education and research," physician Jeff Bird, president of the hospital, told The Star Press.

A Daleville-based aquaponic greenhouse grows a variety of vegetables year-round. (Photo: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press)

The rezoning request ran into some opposition when it was introduced at the council's August meeting.

Heavy-equipment operator and unsuccessful city council candidate Audie Barber (no relation to Glynn Barber), warned council that "if you open it up for a fish farm, then you've got to open it up for a pig farm, a dairy farm … We are opening ourselves up to bringing farms inside the city limits. Chicken farms. The next thing you know, Tyson will want to put up a big grow house over here for their chickens."

Attorney Maura J. Hoff, representing the hospital foundation, responded that city ordinance prohibits industrial livestock farms like Audie Barber was talking about. She provided council little information about the project.

Council President Doug Marshall and councilman Jerry Dishman voted against introduction of the the rezoning ordinance, but seven other council members approved it.

Funny farmer makes headlines

When The Star Press first wrote about Barber's ECSIA system, in 2014, there were literally hundreds of people designing and building their own aquaponics systems, ranging from a fish tank with herbs in the kitchen to small systems capable of supplying farmers markets or local restaurants.

At the time, Laura Tiu, aquaculture extension specialist at Ohio State University, told the newspaper, "I've yet to see a large, commercial-scale operation. We've not yet seen a model system that is economically proven that can be replicated. I believe that this is what Glynn, as well as many others, are trying to achieve."

She compared characterized aquaponics primarily as a hobby. But that was then.

What does Tiu — now a fisheries/aquaculture/marine education extension agent at the University of Florida — say now?

She still remembers Barber, whom she calls "an aquaponics pioneer in the Midwest."

Tiu is now seeing a few commercial-scale aquaponics operations that appear to be profitable, including northeast Florida's Traders Hill Farm, which advertises leafy greens "that grow faster, taste better, last longer and waste nothing." Its customers include grocery stores and restaurants.

 As far as a $200 million investment in Barber's venture, Tiu said, "In my experience, just throwing money at something is not what makes it work — careful business planning is. With aquaponics, the ability to access and serve specialty markets seems to be one of the keys.

"I believe that farms located in areas with high demand of organic/natural produce, unique produce, willingness to pay more for produce, will have the best success rate. I still don’t think it’s a cheap way to grow food, but it certainly opens up areas where traditional crop practices are not available."

A Daleville-based aquaponic greenhouse grows a variety of vegetables year-round. (Photo: Jordan Kartholl/The Star Press)

An Air Force veteran and former tool and die maker, Barber exudes confidence, energy and enthusiasm.

After giving The Star Press a 45-minute presentation of his business plan, he asked: "Are you getting the picture? Are you disappointed? Isn't this amazing?"

The components that make up the ECSIA system, such as pumps, clamps, fiberglass and plastic, are all being manufactured in Indiana, including Anderson, Redkey, Eaton, Lafayette, Elkhart and Muncie. A fresh water lobster hatchery is set up in New Castle.

Barber invented the system in his garage in Redkey out of necessity — treating his son's schizophrenia with healthy food — after consulting potheads growing elite marijuana; university researchers; doctors and others. 

His business plan includes a partnership with Marion-based Insurance Management Group to provide ECSIA growers insurance coverage, including greenhouse structures, equipment, ECSIA system modules, business income, system breakdowns, off-premise power interruption, liability, and workers compensation.

"We are the only company that has this," Barber said. "We don't make a dime on the insurance, which costs $1,183 a year."

The red claw crayfish is the inspiration for the name of the FARMacy's Blue Crayz restaurant. (Photo: Kellie Barber)

In addition to the proposed chain of FARMacy facilities, Barber has taken steps to construct his first commercial-size ECSIA module in Daleville, with 48 fish tanks, 1,080 troughs and 5,400 grow trays. It is designed to produce up to 45,000 heads of leafy greens, 6,000 pounds of fruiting vegetables and 700 pounds of fish per week.

"We've never built one that big," Barber said. "It will have robotic harvesters and things that we've developed to put there. It will be a big research and development center and a full-blown production center."

Barber says he's also getting ready to build a factory in Daleville to manufacture ECSIA components.

The staff at ECSIA headquarters, doing business in the Lyndenbrook Place office park as Balance Holdings LLC, includes an office manager, an environmental scientist, a marketing manager, and an artist.

A drawing of a freshwater lobster/crayfish that is the namesake of a FARMacy restaurant proposed on West Jackson Street in Muncie (Photo: Seth Slabaugh, The Star Press)

Barber expects each FARMacy facility across the country to attract 10 to 15, easy-to-maintain "satellite" or "co-op growers" using ECSIA technology.

"We will partner with and buy from those satellites but we won't own them," Barber said.

A "satellite greenhouse" similar to the one in Elkhart, managed by an ex-heroin addict, can generate $300,000 to $400,000 in revenue per year at a cost of less than $50,000 a year, according to Barber, who says it takes three men two hours a day to operate the greenhouse.

Anyone with an eighth-grade education can follow the greenhouse's operating manual, which runs a couple of hundred pages long, he added.

Joey Sarver manages the Teen Challenge ECSIA greenhouse in Elkhart. (Photo: Photo provided)

A graduate of the Central High School class of 1986, Barber said he chose to headquarter his venture here because "Muncie was the birthplace of sustainable agriculture with the Ball jar."

Ball Corporation was a manufacturer of glass jars used for home canning of fresh, high quality food.

"This isn't a feel-good thing," Barber says of his undertaking. "This is about the health of a community."

Contact Seth Slabaugh at (765) 213-5834 or seths@muncie.gannett.com

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