Planned Vertical Farm in East Baltimore Aims To Train Ex-Offenders

Planned Vertical Farm in East Baltimore Aims To Train Ex-Offenders

Baltimore Business Journal

Morgan Eichensehr Reporter

Planned Vertical Farm in East Baltimore Aims To Train Ex-Offenders

A Canadian agriculture technology company is partnering with CBO Financial Inc. and Volunteers of America Chesapeake to develop a $6 million indoor urban farm in East Baltimore, part of a new program to give workforce training to ex-offenders.

Arcturus Growthstar Technologies Inc. signed a letter of intent last month to lease 25,000 square feet from local nonprofit Volunteers of America Chesapeake at one of its centers at 5000 E. Monument St. Part of the building will be renovated to accommodate Arcturus’ "controlled environment agriculture" technology, which uses LED lights to grow plants indoors on vertically-stacked levels. The farm will vertically grow produce like lettuce, basil, cilantro and oregano.

And though the company is involved with marijuana growing efforts in other markets like Florida, Russell Snyder, CEO of Volunteers of America Chesapeake, said that will not be part of the Baltimore operation.

The renovation is expected to be finished in 2018.

Volunteers of America Chesapeake currently uses the building as a residential re-entry center to help ex-offenders rejoin society and the workforce after serving prison sentences. The new partnership will be utilized to provide workforce development opportunities for residents of the re-entry program — the center serves about 150 residents at a time — in the area of urban farming, Snyder said.

"The job training and jobs created by this social enterprise will allow the resident to gain a skill that can be applied in the workplace once they successfully leave our program," he said. "VOAC is all about empowering individuals who have struggled in life to be independent and inspire hope in a new direction with their lives."

Columbia-based CBO Financial Inc. is helping to arrange financing for the project. Financing will be sought through the federal New Markets Tax Credit program, a $65 billion program designed to incentivize private investment in low-income communities.

The Baltimore farming operation is expected to serve as a model for expansion of Arcturus' technologies and training programs across the country and one of several projects Arcturus, CBO and Volunteers of America will work on together going forward.

William Gildea, CEO of Arcturus, said if the program is successful, it could serve as a bellwether for other public-private partnerships within the urban farming industry.

“Our goal was always to create impactful social and corporate programs that are mutually beneficial for all involved, from the community, to the company and our shareholders," he said in a statement. "Partnering with Volunteers of America Chesapeake and CBO Financial puts us in the position to achieve that goal.”

Morgan is a reporter for the Baltimore Business Journal. She covers technology, education and health care.
What Will 2017 Bring For Indoor Ag?

What Will 2017 Bring For Indoor Ag?

A Glimpse Into Brooklyn’s Rooftop Greenhouse

A Glimpse Into Brooklyn’s Rooftop Greenhouse