Ohio developer Robert Krutko hopes to open a farming system that combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics at Newark Greenhouse on East Maple Avenue in Newark.
NEWARK — An Ohio entrepreneur whose sights are set on an existing 340,000-square-foot greenhouse complex in Wayne County says he could be growing and selling high-quality organic produce by the start of next year.
Columbus, Ohio, developer Robert Krutko said Wednesday that he, along with “a couple of private investors,” hopes to open an aquaponics center at Newark Greenhouse, formerly home to Jackson and Perkins Company and Newark Floral Facility at 621 E. Maple Ave in Newark.
Aquaponics is a farming system that combines conventional aquaculture — which is raising aquatic creatures such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks — with hydroponics, which is cultivating plants in water. In an aquaponics system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system. There, fish by-products are broken down and used to feed the plants, then the water is recirculated back to the aquaculture system.
Krutko said the cost of getting the farm up and running will be about $1 million to $1.5 million and will generate an estimated 30 to 50 jobs by the first of 2017.
After a search that lasted six to 12 months, Krutko said the Newark facility became his first choice for a number of reasons: It sits on 36 acres of land, nine of which are solely dedicated to indoor growing space. It also includes 80,000 square feet of warehouse, refrigerated storage, and 10,000 square feet of office space.
“It would take a year for the buildout alone,” said Krutko, had the facility not already been in place.
Newark Greenhouse owner and manager Tom Salviski said the facility had sparked enormous interest recently from those applying for a license to grow medical marijuana.
“It’s a phenomenal facility to grow vegetables, organic food, flowers, herbs, medicinal marijuana, cannabis, or a variety of other legal cash crops,” Salviski said. “There’s so much potential there.”
In 2015, a Buffalo grower — Amos Zittel and Sons Inc. — moved into a portion of the Newark space after the company “lost their greenhouses in a terrible storm,” Salviski said. Now they’re back up and running in Buffalo, and the Newark facility is available for a purchase price of $495,000, or for rent at $2.25 per square foot, per year.
“I have had discussions with Mr. Krutko regarding our property,” Salviski said. “It certainly could meet the needs of a hydroponics and/or aquaponics facility and is the only one of its kind in the area.”
But so far, nothing has been solidified, and a few other folks are also eyeing the facility, he said.
Newark Mayor Jonathan Taylor said he’s “encouraged that people are looking at the old Newark Florist,” calling the aquaponics proposal “an interesting concept.”
Looking into the future, Krutko predicted his venture “will put Newark, New York, on the map.”
“And it’s not just going to benefit Newark, it will benefit the whole state of New York,” he said. “It’s going to draw hundreds, if not thousands of visitors, researchers, college students, farmers and people who want to learn how to do this.”
The facility would be set up as a research center with “every possible type of grow medium in those greenhouses, including vertical growing, grow bed systems, and raft systems,” Krutko said.
“No facility in the world offers that many growing styles,” he said. “We’ll have statistics on water quality and plant growth in each type of system. It will be the largest aquaponics farm and research center in the world.”
A name has not yet been given to the project, he said. But that will be announced when he locks down the location.
The U.S. has only a few commercial aquaponics facilities set up so far, Krutko said. “Some are successful, many have failed,” he said, comparing the Newark, New York, facility to a similar one in Newark, New Jersey.
“Investors for the one in Newark, New Jersey, raised $30-40 million for that facility,” he said. “We can do the same thing with 10 times the volume for pennies on the dollar.”
If Krutko gets the nod from village officials in Newark, he’s got an aggressive timetable in mind.
“I would imagine we could be in there in 90 days, clearing the greenhouse and getting the systems in,” he said. “I imagine in 12 months we’d have the first crop of vegetables, and within the next 12 to 18 months the facility would be in full operation.”
Krutko estimates his $1 million to $1.5 million investment will yield 100,000 to 150,000 pounds of organic produce a day — for sale at “regular produce” prices.
Not everything can be grown using aquaponics, Krutko said. The farm would grow primarily lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and strawberries — all with “no pesticides, chemicals, or any of that.”
Where traditional farming will yield two to three lettuce harvests per year, the aquaponics farm can harvest lettuce every four to six weeks, he said. And it will use 95 percent less water than conventional farming.
In addition to fresh produce, the farm will raise “a whole array of fish species, including yellow perch, barramundi (Asian sea bass), freshwater prawns, and tilapia.” A portion of the farm will house a hatchery where fish will be bred to serve the hydroponics operation. Once they reach maturity, fish will be harvested and sold to restaurants and supermarkets, Krutko said.
Eventually, Krutko hopes to market home aquaponics systems where individuals can set them up in their backyard. He also foresees setting aside space for “a little store where people can come in and pick their own vegetables.”
“You will be eating the freshest vegetables, tomatoes, and herbs year-round,” he said. “When you eat these tomatoes in January you’ll think you’re eating them in the middle of July.”
If the project is approved by Newark officials, Krutko said he and his wife and daughter, who’s an environmental scientist, will relocate from Ohio to Newark to become part of the community. The three will live onsite to oversee operations. The parcel, which includes eight or nine resident units, is currently zoned for commercial and residential use, he said.
“Newark will be well taken care of,” said Krutko, who plans to donate 5-10 percent of his produce “to local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.”
Krutko consulted with Taylor and village Code Enforcement Officer Mark Peake on Thursday to discuss what steps are needed to be taken next.
“Now the ball’s really in his court to come to some kind of agreement with the property owner,” said Taylor. “I don’t believe there’s any zoning things that are needed. The facility is ready to go. It just needs someone who has a plan, and has the financial side of it pulled together.”