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Residents, leaders optimistic about jobs, synergy with other organizations
Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories about In City Farms. The first may be found here.
An architect’s rendering shows what In City Farms’ Duquesne facility will look like. Construction is expected to begin soon. (Submitted image courtesy In City Farms)
When businessman Paul Schink learned that In City Farms aquaponics plant was slated to be built in Duquesne, he said it would mean “more customers and more traffic” for his store, Schink’s Hardware, and other local businesses. His father founded Schink’s Hardware in 1945 and he began working at the store in 1959.
Schink, who witnessed Duquesne’s industrial decline over the last few decades, is glad for new industry to come to the area.
This spring, In City Farms is breaking ground in RIDC’s Industrial Center of Duquesne business park, located on the former U.S. Steel Duquesne Plant.
The 25-acre development is a 175,000-square-foot aquaponic plant dedicated to growing vegetables such as bok choy, collard greens and mixed salad greens and raising fish.
The development is going to be more than just a food growing operation, said Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby. “There's going to be play areas for the children, green space, and we talked about possibly bringing in food trucks, and dairy, farmers with fresh meats,” she said.
In City Farms is committed to hosting a farmers’ market twice a week where customers can access the plant’s freshly grown produce.
“We want this to become a food industrial park,” said Joe Bute, board president of Food21, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit that advocates for the expansion of the regional food and agricultural economy in the tri-state area.
“We’re going to put at least three other business centers on this site that are doing things that are related, so that basically you will have a completely zero-waste operation in terms of nothing going to waste in that facility,” Bute said. “Waste gets composted and turned into substrata for growing mushrooms or it’s put into a food production facility where there'd be contract manufacturing of food products.
“So as you can see, it's really a destination location around things that are food and agriculturally connected,” he said.
Developers predict In City Farms will create between 130 and 160 jobs, not including construction work.
Nesby is enthusiastic about the plant’s potential for creating jobs for Duquesne residents, particularly those with criminal records. The city has a large percentage of residents who are re-entering the workforce after completing their sentences, she said.
“They’re going to be able to actually go to work and have gainful employment,” she said.
Glenn Ford, the Minnesota-based founder of In City Farms, said he is open to hiring former violent and nonviolent offenders. “If someone were a violent offender, we would want them to have gone through a (treatment) program,” he said. “But if they've gone through a program where they now understand how to handle their temper, they understand how to handle some of their issues, then they can come to us for a job.”
To Ford, laws banning people with records from working are unjust. “The fact that some kid, for example, was walking down the street and got stopped and arrested because they had too much marijuana in his pocket is no reason to eliminate that person from a job or from the labor force,” he said. “I actually think that's kind of a travesty and is something that we need to change laws concerning. People need to work.”
Another way In City Farms intends to positively impact the Duquesne community and beyond is by supporting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which is also based in the RIDC park.
Though the two organizations have not completed a formal agreement, both said they are committed to exploring how they might partner with each other.
The food bank, located adjacent to the lot where In City Farms is building, distributed 12 million pounds of fresh produce in the last year, which was almost 35 percent of the food they distributed overall.
“We look forward to partnering with them to carry out our mission,” said Lisa Scales, chief executive officer of the food bank. “And we’ll gladly accept donations of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as frozen fish.”
Nichole Faina is a freelance journalist in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published April 16, 2021.