By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Legislators are considering a proposal to resurrect the dormant Green Tech Park idea at SUNY Sullivan.
Hudson Valley Produce Farms (HVPF) representatives pitched the idea to the county at last Thursday’s Sustainability Policy Committee meeting.
The company is proposing to site a million-square-foot greenhouse complex behind the college in Loch Sheldrake, on acreage once intended to host an industrial park for green technology companies.
“Controlled-environment agriculture is the future of agriculture,” HVPF Chief Technology Officer Bobby Massarini told legislators. “... And you can’t get more ‘green’ than growing fresh produce.”
Massarini and CEO Kenny Jones indicated they would lease around 32 acres of county-owned land next to the college to create a $46 million facility that would grow and ship fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
Right now, said Massarini, “fresh isn’t really fresh. The average item you get in the store may have travelled 1,500 miles.”
HVPF would erect greenhouses that would collect rainwater and use it to hydroponically grow more than eight million pounds of tomatoes, 850,000 pounds of peppers and 7.5 million heads of lettuce every year, for distribution regionally and to the NYC metro area.
Massarini and Jones said they expect to generate $23 million a year in sales and ultimately employ 75 people.
The idea to do this locally sprang from Massarini’s attendance at the recent county-sponsored Ag Summit.
Both men said they are county residents (Massarini’s four sons attended SUNY Sullivan), and Jones has been involved in the produce business for three decades.
“Now I run a brokerage company that puts growers in touch with receivers all over the world,” Jones explained.
“The big plus to that is our customer base already exists,” added Massarini.
SUNY Sullivan Interim President William Murabito was present and said the college supports the proposal.
“It kind of fits in with what we need to do,” he remarked, referring to a controlled-environment agriculture curriculum the college hopes to build around this project.
“It is something of the future,” Murabito acknowledged. “... We’re hoping the county embraces this.”
Town of Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Vegliante told legislators Fallsburg looks forward to putting the acreage back on the tax rolls as a result.
“It certainly is an exciting project,” he said.
County Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon pledged his help as well, though he did note the company’s “very aggressive timeline” to be in operation by later this year or early next.
The county’s “green” consultant, Dick Riseling, also gave his assent.
“We think it should go forward,” he said.
Legislators wondered what the cost would be.
“We’re not looking for a dime from you guys,” said Massarini.
As such, it garnered unanimous informal support from legislators on the Sustainability Policy Committee.
During the same meeting, legislators agreed to spend $4,000 to have Blue Springs Energy create a website for residents and businesses seeking renewable energy information and incentives.
For that $4,000, Blue Springs will make a website just for Sullivan County, providing tips, tools and referral materials for those interested in “green” energy options.
The agreement is good for three years, possibly to be renewed at no cost thereafter.
“Blue Springs does recover its costs through the use of advertising on the site,” explained Heather Brown of the county’s Office of Sustainable Energy. “But we also get a quarterly newsletter, flyers, posters and press releases.”
Legislators like Alan Sorensen indicated they believe it may become a powerful economic development tool, as well, spurring growth in construction and retrofitting.