Groundbreaking of New Options Farms

Aug 3, 2015

MANNINGTON TWP. — Ground was broken Thursday at the future site of the first greenhouse of the New Options Farms™, a project headed by Mid-Atlantic Career and Eduation Center.

The greenhouse is the first of six that Mid-Atlantic plans to use as a way to provide employment for up to 200 people and grow food using sustainable methods.

Mid-Atlantic President Glen Donelson, said the groundbreaking at the site just off of Cheney Road was just the start of a project three years in the making. Now that they have funding for the first greenhouse, Donelson said they can start working on the rest of the project.

Ben Wood, vice president of strategic planning, said the project came about from his knowledge of hydroponic growing projects in Ithaca, New York, that employed disabled people in growing food.

“What we wanted to do was something so unique,” he said. “It won’t only employ people who are in need of really beneficial work, but it will also serve as an opportunity for Salem County food producers to come and see a different approach to agriculture.”

Wood said the greenhouses would be equipped with all of the latest technology to ensure that they don’t draw from existing power and water infrastructure. With the use of solar energy and and water recycling, New Options Farms™ will be able to have a seven week growing cycle.

Mid-Atlantic will look to hire disadvantaged and disabled workers, including disabled veterans and ex-offenders.

“There are other greenhouses that use sustainable methods, and there are greenhouses that offer people jobs, but nothing combines it all together,” Wood said. “It’s a unique opportunity for the people of Salem County.”

Mid-Atlantic Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Thomas Brown said they have placed 2,600 people in jobs since the center began.

“We gauge our results on job placement,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to grow people… that’s our mission.”

In addition to growing people, the New Options Farms™ will specialize in growing exotic salad greens to use in Asian, Indian and Thai food. The greenhouses will also grow medicinal plants for heath food and medicinal companies.

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher attended the groundbreaking and commended Mid-Atlantic for their vision to come up with an idea that can help in many different areas.

“When people get involved in growing crops.. it’s very transformative,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the sustainability, the food and the jobs this project will bring… (Mid-Atlantic) is making a complete difference in so many lives to come.”

Third District Assemblyman John Burzichelli said the project was the perfect mix for Salem County. He stressed the importance of the jobs the farm will bring, as well as the fact that the food it grows won’t compete with local farmers.

“It’s innovative and it really reflects this county,” he said. “These fields are our factories, people have to eat… Keeping our farmers alive is an important thing for us.”

The first greenhouse is expected to be completed in the late fall and growing food by the early winter. Even though it’s just the first step, Wood said Mid-Atlantic is ready to get the first greenhouse up and get the project started.

“We’re just so excited that it’s happening.” he said. “It takes a lot of patience.”

Alex Young may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AYO42. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.