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From A Dump To A Garden Greenhouse

Idea Would Turn City Landfill Into A Growing Business

MIKE MCGARRY

July 26, 2009

More than 100 acres of land is about to become available in Hartford's North Meadows. The infamous Hartford landfill will finally be capped. This much land on a river, a rail line and a major highway ought to present an opportunity, regardless of its history.

Some want it to remain open space for bird watching, bike riding or walking. Most of those folks have never set foot in Keney Park, a massive enclave just across the highway from the north end of the landfill. In short, there already is a park there.

What Hartford needs is a facility on the landfill that creates jobs and commerce. The perfect fit for this difficult-to-build-on site is a modern greenhouse facility.

Greenhouses go up, not down, and do not deal with soil. Most high-volume greenhouses cover the ground with plastic sheets to maximize efficiency and keep out pests, and use rock wool to grow vegetables.

An example of what could be done on top of the mound is the Origin Organic Farms greenhouses in Delta, British Columbia. With 33 acres under glass, the operation employs 150 people and grows 10 million pounds of peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Whole Foods carries these products mainly because no herbicides need to be used and very little pesticide is needed. It is much easier to be organic under glass than out in the field.

In 1999, while on the Hartford city council, I traveled to British Columbia to see and study this productive area. At the time, we looked at the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority land across from the regional market in the South Meadows as a good site for a greenhouse. The agency thought it had a more productive use for the property. It still sits empty.

The North Meadows site is better, with room for 30 to 40 acres of glass, access roads and outbuildings. Securing the structure without going down into the landfill might be a challenge, but that's what we have engineers and architects for. Big tents are anchored in parking lots without cutting into asphalt; rigid greenhouses can be secured as well.

Think of the possibilities: fresh, organic produce available to markets, restaurants and residents most of the year. Lights (electricity from the methane gas produced by the landfill) allow for cold-weather growing when prices are higher and warm fields are four to five truck-days away.

As travel costs continue to rise, local, year-round produce has quite a cost advantage.

But most of all, we must think about adding value to the city instead of building another publicly supported burden. Sure, bike paths could be built around the property. But Hartford needs jobs. With an operator local or national in place, a modern, efficient greenhouse complex could be built in just a few months after the landfill is capped, and within weeks we could see actual production of butter lettuce, English cucumbers, bell peppers and grape tomatoes. Let's do it.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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