Fergus Falls residents and business development representatives are working to bring a new, cutting-edge crop-growing facility to the area.
On Friday, the Fergus Falls Township approved the construction of an approximately 20,000-square-foot building on property owned by Lee Barry near StoneL on U.S. Highway 59. Pending final agreements, Barry plans to lease the building to Vertical Farms Produce, a company that is pioneering a space-saving approach to crop growing via aeroponics — the cultivation of plants in a mist or air environment without soil.
“We’re very happy to see something like this coming into Fergus Township,” said township supervisor Vic Petterson.
Once it completes final federal processes, Vertical Farms Produce would begin operating an indoor farm system in the building — the first of its kind using this specific technology in the United States.
As much as 25 acres of lettuce could be grown year-round, according to Economic Improvement Commission Director Harold Stanislawski.
Herbs and a few other plants can also be grown in the environment, which saves space by stacking racks of plants (which germinate in compact chunks of peat) on top of each other.
The process doesn’t use any herbicides, fungicides or pesticides and recycles its own wastewater, and the process is certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Stanislawski.
The plants grown in the building will likely be sold to distributors and wholesalers. The possibility of sales to local wholesalers is unknown at this time.
“I consider this a bio-science project,” said Stanislawski, noting that a diverse range of businesses in the Fergus Falls area commands further interest. “I think we have the potential to perhaps have some kinds of interesting partnerships with this down the road.”
At the township meeting, Barry and Stanislawski explained that the building is expected to cost about $900,000 to build, with the Farm
building’s specifications ultimately being worth much more. Eleven jobs with good pay are expected to be created when the building opens.
Currently the only operational building using the same technology as the proposed Fergus Falls facility is located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Stanislawski said Vertical Farms Produce chose this location in part due to the willingness and enthusiasm of Fergus Falls partners as well as the site’s proximity to Lake Region Electric Co-op, which is able to access USDA grants needed to fully fund the project.
Though Vertical Farms Produce’s COO Dale Didion did not want to confirm the project or technological specifics before all of the paperwork is approved, he thanked all of the Otter Tail County residents the company has worked with so far.
“The people of Fergus Falls, including Harold and Lee, and the people of the Lake Region Electrical Co-op have been very helpful,” he said, promising to let residents know more about the project when the details are finalized.
Stanislawski said the hope is that building can begin before snow comes to the area, but a timeline is not known at this time.