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Two South Bend indoor farming proposals could make city hub for hydroponic produce industry

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Leon Brooks
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Pure Green Farms currently grows about two million pounds of lettuce indoors. It is sold to grocery stores and wholesalers.

The South Bend Common Council unanimously approved several tax abatements Monday night for two indoor farming operations. The investments could make the city a major hub in the hydroponic produce industry.

Greenleaf Holdco, which does business as Pure Green Farms, operates a four-acre hydroponic greenhouse on Calvert Street near the South Bend Ethanol Plant.

It grows about two million pounds of various lettuces indoors 365 days a year. And the company has plans for a $68 million dollar expansion, creating 75 new jobs and retaining 25 existing ones with an average wage of around $24 an hour.

Right next door, JEM Farms is planning a $178 million dollar investment to build 100 acres of greenhouses, which would produce tomatoes and strawberries and employ about 110 people. On average, those employees would make just under $30 an hour.

On Monday night, the South Bend Common Council unanimously voted to approve about $17.2 million in tax abatements for the projects, which could make the city a major regional hub for indoor farming.

“It’s creating a new industry,” sixth district council member Sheila Niezgodski said. “New jobs — $240 million of investment, it’s just amazing.”

Niezgodski called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.

“I don’t know if I’m gonna see another $240 million dumped into the sixth district,” she said. “And I say dumped because we could be the salad bowl of the Midwest.”

The tax abatements passed unanimously for both companies despite some confusion earlier this month surrounding JEM Farms’ application.

Originally, it listed Red Sun Farms as a partner. But following an article about the project last month in the South Bend Tribune, Red Sun Farms said they had no plans to be involved.

Santiago Garces, the city’s director of community investment, said during the Monday meeting that the confusion was because JEM Farms owner Jamie Mastronardi is also a principal in Red Sun Farms.

In a letter submitted to the common council, Mastronardi apologized for the error.

"My son Paul is a director at JEM Farms and looking to build greenhouse in South Bend, Indiana," Mastronardi wrote. "Paul has no association with Red Sun farms."

If the projects are built, Greenleaf and JEM Farms will pay no personal property or real estate taxes for five years. Then, the abatements will gradually phase out and eventually disappear in nine years.

That means JEM will pay about $2.5 million in taxes over the abatement period, and Greenleaf will pay about $500,000.

Jeff Rea, the president and CEO of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the projects are “one of the largest single investments in the city in quite some time.”

“It puts South Bend on the map,” Rea said. “It’s a great generator of new jobs and capital investment, and we think it would be a real catalyst to other activity here.”

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.