Ivy Tech, Green Sense Partner On Vertical Farm In South Bend

Ivy Tech, Green Sense Partner On Vertical Farm In South Bend

Ivy Tech, Green Sense Partner On Vertical Farm In South Bend

Ivy Tech to partner on vertical farm


SOUTH BEND — Ivy Tech Community College and Green Sense Farms have entered into a partnership to build a 20,000-square-foot “vertical farm” on land transferred by the college to the Portage-based grower on Sample Street in South Bend.

The announcement ends two years of speculation about the project, which also involves the city of South Bend. A ceremonial ground-breaking is set for Wednesday.

According to a press release, the state-of-the-art, $3 million to $4 million facility will be utilized for workforce training so that students better understand future opportunities in farming.

Courses will begin as non-credit or “through” courses complementing other programs while the school develops a curriculum for the program, and students will receive training in transferable skills for areas such as food service, retail and industrial maintenance.

Ivy Tech, for its part, will gain access to the vertical farming labs without the large-scale investment needed to acquire equipment, the release states.

“It's a working commercial farm, meaning we will be providing produce every day to the community, and it's a hands-on training center,” said Robert Colangelo, founder and CEO of Green Sense.

Items such as micro-greens, baby greens, lettuces and herbs will be grown at the facility to support local markets, restaurants and colleges, Colangelo said, including Martin's Super Market, the University of Notre Dame, the Morris Inn, Café Navarre, Four Winds Casino and Sodexo, the food service provider for Memorial Hospital and Saint Mary's College.

The facility will employ 10 students every six months in “earn to learn” roles, Colangelo said, plus five full-time employees who will earn $30,000 to $50,000 per year. The students will work 20 hours per week and gain hands-on experience in all aspects of the business.

Students who are interested in the retail or food service sides of the industry will train with the partner organizations as well, Colangelo said, with opportunities to work for those organizations afterward.

“The plan is that they graduate job-ready so that they've got real hands-on skills,” he said. “And more importantly, the much-needed soft skills that employers are looking for.”

Colangelo said he is working with Mike Keen, director of the Center for a Sustainable Future at Indiana University South Bend, to develop a curriculum for the course so students can earn credit for it and professional certification.

They're also working to develop some sort of criteria for the selection of the students, he said, likely to include an interview. “It's not just education,” he said. “Some of it will come down to personality, drive and interest.”

Founded in 2014, Green Sense Farms grows leafy greens in stacking, vertical towers, 365 days a year. The company uses automated computer controls to provide the precise amount of light, nutrients, water, temperature and humidity for the plants so they can be harvested year-round.

The process provides greater yield per unit of space than traditional farming because it allows for growing and harvesting year-round. A typical facility allows for 20 to 30 harvests per year depending on the crop, Colangelo said.

The company opened its first farm in Portage in 2014. It also designed and built a farm in Shenzhen, China, for its operating partner StarGlobal A. And it is preparing to break ground on a third facility in Las Vegas.

“We have about 10 farms in the pipeline being developed in the next six months,” Colangelo said. “And I think once news hits that we're doing this training center, we'll see a lot of colleges and universities want to emulate this.”

The facility here, financed, in part, with a $700,000, low-interest Industrial Revolving Loan from the city, will be at 250 E. Sample St., on the south side of the street, directly west of Ivy Tech's Sample Street location.

It will consist of space to germinate the seeds and grow, package, store and ship the plants, plus office space and an enclosed corridor for students and tour groups to observe the operation, Colangelo said.

Design-wise, the structure will be a steel-frame building with a front-facing brick facade made to match the adjacent Ivy Tech building in look and color, he said.

“It will be the nicest thing on the block,” he said.

Once up and running, the facility will provide fresh, organic produce to local stores, restaurants and food-service providers on a daily basis, Colangelo said. “Most of the stuff from the farm takes days to get from the farm to the table,” he said. “We're going to be able to do that in hours, so it's fresh.”

He said they're also hoping to deliver produce “live” with the roots still on the plant, “because as soon as you cut a plant and harvest it, it starts to decay and lose nutritional value.”

According to Ivy Tech South Bend Chancellor Thomas Coley, the school is approved to offer agricultural courses but never has, “and this seemed to be a very promising way to provide training for a market that seems to be growing fairly well.”

“And it could tie into other related programs in biotechnology or hospitality or even hospitality,” Coley said. “Or even, because it's technologically driven, industrial maintenance and other related areas.”

Colangelo said he hopes to break ground on the project in the coming weeks or months, with a completion date of next June.

He said, “I feel like we're setting a model here for how government, academia and business can work together to train the new, modern workforce.”




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