Indoor Farm Offers New Life For Ex-Elementary School

Indoor Farm Offers New Life For Ex-Elementary School

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    • August 11, 2018

The Daily Star

The former Otego Elementary School on Main Street is seen in June.

When the Unatego School District Board of Education voted to close the Otego Elementary School in February 2017, a committee formed to decide the fate of the building. In a 4-2 vote on Monday, Aug. 6, the board accepted an innovative farming proposal.

AgZeit LLC has high hopes. The proposal bills the collaborative project as “a new way of doing business that will economically revitalize Otsego County and the Mohawk Valley Region and help New York State once again become the breadbasket for the entire northeast.”

The Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council prioritized agribusiness initiatives in its 2017 Progress Report, considering it a viable engine for economic development in the region.

Agzeit LLC is the brainchild of James Dutcher and its operations currently exist in a classroom at Tiger Ventures, an alternative high school and business incubator in Endicott.

The concept to use indoor vertical farming technology with an optimized grow season is what Dutcher has been successfully experimenting with in Endicott.

Dutcher told The Daily Star that there are 32 units in the Endicott classroom, equivalent to five seasonal acres. The pilot has been running since November 2017 and makes an income of about $500 a week. Dutcher imagines that with the Otego facilities, AgZeit can scale up the production and the profit.

The business model states that 17 jobs will be added within the first year and another 21 in year two. The company projects that it will break even in year two. By year five, AgZeit intends to have 100 jobs with an average salary of $40,000.

“First and foremost we want to get the site productive,” Dutcher said.

Dutcher stressed the endeavor as collaborative, with a mix of private and public investors. 2445 Organics, a partner in the pilot out of Massena, developed the vertical grow rack technology that AgZeit uses.

According to the proposal, the funding ratio is 80 percent private investment to 20 percent potential grant monies.

Dutcher said that once the legal acquisition is complete, the company plans to be up and running within three months.

The fledgling business will tie high-production indoor organic farming with educational components and housing for veterans with opportunities for job training and a year-round farmers’ market.

“We’re not just focused on doing indoor farming,” Dutcher said. “We’re community-oriented.”

Additionally, the property will become part of the tax base of Otego. 

Alternative energy sources are also planned for the building, such as incorporating a solar grid on the rooftop and using distillation and rainwater collection to water the crops. 

While the plan is to develop a major food production site, the problem of distribution has been a major challenge in the area. Dutcher, however, is optimistic, saying that there is a readily available source of distributors. Further, the location is close to Interstate 88 on ramp, making it accessible for transport.

James Salisbury, president of the Unatego Board of Education, voted in favor of AgZeit.

“The hope is that it’s going to create jobs and will be something that is very beneficial to the Otego community,” Salisbury told The Daily Star. “I certainly feel like the community is looking forward to it.”

Whitney Bashaw, staff writer, can be reached at (607) 441-7218 or wbashaw@thedailystar.com . Follow her on Twitter @DS_WhitneyB

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