DELTA — Fulton County’s York Township is an ideal fit for a Canadian greenhouse produce grower’s first complex in Ohio, a spokesperson said.
Not only does the site across from North Star BlueScope Steel manufacturer outside Delta lend itself to market access, its climate and topography will serve the NatureFresh Farms project well, said Ray Wowryk, the company’s director of business development.
At a press conference Monday, the company announced it will start construction this spring of the first of a dozen 15-acre greenhouses across 175 acres. The more than $200 million project will progress in phases over seven years, and will eventually employ 300 people.
At peak production, each greenhouse can yield upwards of 15,000 cases of conventional tomatoes weekly for both large and small retailers across the country. NatureFresh has partnered with Jobs Ohio, and locally with the Regional Growth Partnership, the Fulton County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC), the Village of Delta, and York Township.
“We’re going to start out with a commodity that produces well,’ Wowryk said. At a future date, the massive greenhouses will grow additional crops, including organic vegetables. Wowryk said one acre of the greenhouses’ production equals that of eight acres of a traditional farm field.
To aid the production, the company is studying with North Star BlueScope Steel a way to capture the plant’s wasted heat output to warm the greenhouses.
“We’re currently researching with them to see if there’s an economical way to capture that heat. It makes good economic sense to do so,” Wowryk said. “We’re an innovator in this industry. We’re looking toward the next generation of greenhouses. We have the resources to do so.”
Unlike its greenhouses in Canada, the local complex will remain open year-round. “Delta is an ideal location. A lot of things came into play, but the site lends itself well,” he said. “Being local is definitely going to be an advantage for us.”
NatureFresh selected the York Township site following 18 months of research that included Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. The location was chosen for its proximity to the company’s Leamington, Ontario base and for prime highway access to its markets.
Wowryk said NatureFresh is following a trend spreading across the U.S. and Canada to produce in greenhouses.
“Resources have become limited in traditional markets. We’re running out of water, we’re running out of resources, so we’re looking at non-traditional techniques. We need to find another area to produce our products,” he said.
Matt Gilroy, FCEDC executive director, said the company hopes to break ground for the first greenhouse in April. The second and third phases of the project will be constructed next year, and two more greenhouses will be built every year thereafter until the complex is completed. NatureFresh will purchase a total of 310 acres at the site.
Hiring for the first 25 positions will likely be held in early summer, with a training process beginning in the fall. Beginning in 2016, the company hopes to hire 50 additional people annually. By the completion of the last greenhouse local payroll will total $12 million.
The company has applied for a 100 percent 15-year community reinvestment area tax abatement, with plans to offer a 50 percent donation to the Pike-Delta-York school district and other local tax-paying entities. Company representatives will meet separately with the school district administrators, York Township trustees, and Fulton County commissioners.
The proposed abatement would begin in 2016.
“Everyone seems to be very excited about the project,” Gilroy said. “This is an ideal project for us. It accomplishes many things, including increasing our economic base.”
Delta Mayor Dan Miller called the construction project “a huge benefit for the Village of Delta.” The village has contracted to provide water to the complex, 50,000 gallons a day for the first phase, then half a million gallons or more daily when all the greenhouses are completed.
“It’s been a lot of hard work to let people know that Delta and Fulton County are open for business. We’ll take the blessing,” he said.
Fulton County Commissioner Paul Barnaby said it’s important to attract new industry to the area. He added, “This is agriculture that will supply food chains in this part of the state, so I think this is an important deal.”
Barnaby said after viewing the project behind the scenes he isn’t surprised the county location was chosen.
“We have byways to get product out of here, and we have a work force unit. I see pluses all the way around,” he said.
Wowryk said NatureFresh is “very optimistic we can get started as soon as the frost is out of the ground. We’re very excited, and looking forward to being part of the community.”