Duquesne hopeful about Aquaponics Plant

Residents, executives who are optimistic about jobs, synergies with other organizations

By Nichole Faina
The Metro City Almanac
April 16, 2021
Posted in: Duquesne News

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two stories about In City Farms. The first can be found here.

An architect’s rendering shows what In City Farms’ Duquesne facility will look like. The start of construction is expected shortly. (Courtesy In City Farms)

When businessman Paul Schink learned that In City Farms’ aquaponic facility would be built in Duquesne, he said it would mean “more customers and more traffic” for his business, Schink’s Hardware and other local businesses. His father founded Schink’s Hardware in 1945 and started working in the business in 1959.

Schink, who witnessed Duquesne’s industrial decline over the past few decades, is delighted that new industries are coming to the region.

This spring, In City Farms will break the first sod in the RIDC Industrial Center of Duquesne, which is located in the former US steelworks Duquesne.

The 25-acre development is a 175,000-square-foot aquaponic plant dedicated to growing vegetables such as bok choy, collard greens, and mixed lettuce greens, as well as raising fish.

The development will be more than just growing food, said Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby. “There will be playgrounds for the kids, there will be green spaces, and we’ve talked about possibly bringing food trucks and dairy farmers with fresh meat,” she said.

City Farms has committed to running a farmers market twice a week where customers can access the freshly grown produce of the plant.

“We want this to be a food industrial park,” said Joe Bute, chairman of the board of Food21, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that is committed to expanding the local food and agriculture industries in the tri-state area.

“We’re going to have at least three other business centers in this location that do related stuff so you have essentially a zero waste operation as nothing goes to waste at this facility,” said Bute. “Waste is composted and processed into substrates for mushroom cultivation or taken to a food production facility where food is ordered.

“As you can see, it’s really a destination for things related to food and agriculture,” he said.

Developers predict In City Farms will create between 130 and 160 jobs with no construction.

Nesby is excited about the facility’s potential to create jobs for Duquesne residents, especially those with a criminal record. The city has a large percentage of residents re-entering the world of work after completing their sentences, she said.

“You will actually be able to go to work and take up employment,” she said.

Glenn Ford, the Minnesota-based founder of In City Farms, said he was open to hiring former violent and nonviolent offenders. “If someone were a violent criminal, we would want them to go through a (treatment) program,” he said. “But if you have gone through a program in which you now understand how to handle your temperament, you understand how to handle some of your problems, then you can come to us for a job.”

For Ford, laws prohibiting people from having work records are unfair. “For example, the fact that a child was walking down the street and being stopped and arrested for having too much marijuana in their pocket is not a reason to exclude that person from a job or from the workforce,” he said. “I actually think this is some kind of travesty and that we have to change the laws. People have to work. “

Another way In City Farms seeks to positively impact the Duquesne community and beyond is by supporting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which is also based in RIDC Park.

Although the two organizations have not reached a formal agreement, both have stated that they are determined to look into how they could work together.

The grocery bank, which sits next to the property In City Farms builds on, handed out 12 million pounds of fresh produce last year, which is nearly 35 percent of the total food they handed out.

“We look forward to working with you to accomplish our mission,” said Lisa Scales, chief executive officer of the food bank. “And we gladly accept donations of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as frozen fish.”

Nichole Faina is a freelance journalist based in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at n.faina.writer@gmail.com.

Originally published April 16, 2021.

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