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Ward 8 commissioners oppose greenhouse project

By Jasmine Jackson/Howard University News Service
On December 15, 2014

Ward 8 residents, officials blast the plan to build the BrightFarms’ urban
greenhouse because they were kept out of the loop.

WASHINGTON – A plan to build a 120,000 square foot greenhouse in Southeast Washington that will produce one million pounds of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs annually ran into opposition from Ward 8 commissioners who say they don’t want the project in their community.

The District of Columbia’s Department of General Services has signed a lease with  BrightFarms Incorporated, a New York-based company that builds greenhouses,  to construct what the company said will  be the world’s most productive urban farm.

The project is scheduled to be completed by 2015 near the intersection of South Capitol Street and Southern Avenue.

The BrightFarms Greenhouse Project is one of the initiatives of outgoing Mayor Vincent C. Gray to increase healthy food grown within the city.

DGS, in coordination with the Department of Parks and Recreation, negotiated a 10-year ground lease for a portion of the Oxon Run Park-Eastover site.

“The greenhouse farm project is consistent with our sustainable D.C. food goals,” Gray said in a statement when he announced the project in 2011. “This project not only adds two and a half acres of food-cultivating land within the District, but it helps put the city on the path to ensuring universal access to secure, nutritious and affordable food supplies.”

City officials said the project will create 100 construction jobs and 25 permanent jobs.

BrightFarms is supposed to grow enough crops to meet the fresh-vegetable-consumption needs for up to 5,000 residents, create 25 full time green collar jobs, and facilitate more than 100 construction jobs.  The company has built or is building farms in Bucks County, Pennsylvania; Oklahoma City; St. Louis; New York City; Chicago; and Kansas City, Missouri.

BrightFarms will also be partnering with 32 Giant Food stores to provide fresh produce grown at the greenhouse. Seventy percent of the produce is to be bought by Giant Foods.  The rest will go to other food markets, according to DGS.

During a recent Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting, Ward 8 residents and commissioners said they do not want a green house in their neighborhood, because it will not provide enough benefits directly to people living in the community.

“It is a disrespect to the community because the ANC has never heard about it,” said Commissioner Olivia Henderson, who serves as the 8D02 commissioner for Ward 8. “I have never received any of this information. You guys are starting this project, but the first public announcement was May 9, 2013.”

ANC 8D commissioners said they are upset with the DGS for starting a project in their community without proper consent and notification. The commissioners said none of them received a letter of intent or notification of the project.

“I contacted you spring 2013,” said Commissioner Absalom Jordan, who serves as the 8D03 commissioner of Ward 8.  “You promised you would get back to me, and I haven’t heard from you since then.”

Derek Davis, who owns a barbershop in Ward 8, said he was also upset about the project.

“It bothers me real bad as a resident, tax payer and business owner that I didn’t know anything about this project,” said Davis. “I am opposed to it.”

Thea Dyson, who serves as the 8D06 commissioner of Ward 8, said she thought the land could have been used better.

“Why are we having someone come in for something we can do ourselves?” asked Dyson.  “Why give the food to Giant when we can give it to the residents for free? People here need the basics, food, water, and shelter. There are a lot of people that are hungry. At least a third or half should be given to the residents.”

Davis said that the Ward needed a senior wellness center more than it needed a greenhouse.

Marc Chambers, associate director of the DGS, told those in opposition of the greenhouse that, while the suggestions for other projects might be good, they cost money, and no one had offered a plan of how they could be built.

“The project has to be financed,” said Chambers.  “There might be a way to make a program happen like that, but this project is creating 35 jobs, and in order to be created it has to be financed.”

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