Second Chances Farm targeting 4.4 million units of annual produce
WILMINGTON, Del. — Early next year, if all goes to plan, Second Chances Farm will be on pace to grow about 4.4 million units of produce per year.
It’ll be a bona fide food factory.
Several Delaware officials, including Gov. John Carney, got a first look at the indoor vertical farm facility on Nov. 18. The farm marked the ceremony by releasing thousands of ladybugs — the official state bug — to feast on aphids, beetle larvae, mites and other potential pests within the facility.
“It was phenomenal,” said Ajit Matthew George, the farm’s founder and CEO. “It was the first exposure for most of them to an indoor farm. … They were surprised how tasty the produce was.”
Second Chances, which moved into a 48,000-square foot warehouse in Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood Sept. 4, employs ex-convicts at its hydroponic facility with the goal of reducing recidivism rates and boosting economically distressed communities.
The farm is focused on raising leafy greens, such as herbs, lettuce and microgreens, but hopes to eventually grow other produce such as strawberries and tomatoes in the near future. The farm is still in its prototype phase, growing in just a portion of its facility, George said, but the factory could be at full capacity by late January.
George, a former real estate developer in the Virgin Islands, and a global collection of investors financed the multi-million-dollar facility, which will soon be joined by a $10 million, 72,000-square-foot, indoor hemp facility, also in Wilmington, George said. Second Chances has already signed a contract to sell its first three years of hemp flowers, he said, and the farm eventually hopes to process hemp into CBD oil for the pharmaceutical market.
The hemp facility could open by July 1.
Vertical farms grow year-round, making Second Chances a unique addition to Delaware’s agricultural community, state Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said.
“We do not have a lot of producers that are producing (these) types of products out in the field,” he said. “It’s got a lot of potential to produce a lot of good-quality products year-round that we just can’t do outside today.”
George said investors in the facility have been encouraged by its location within a federal Opportunity Zone, a new investment vehicle created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The zones are designed to spur economic development and job creation in distressed communities by providing tax benefits to those who invest in them. Taxpayers may defer tax on eligible capital gains by investing in such a project.
“It’s an exceptionally capital-intensive operation,” he said. “These are not your traditional investors in agriculture.”
The facility’s 17 ex-convict employees will work on six- to 12-month apprenticeships where they’re trained in hydroponic farming, hopefully in preparation to start their own farm, George said. He hatched the idea after organizing a TEDx conference at Bailor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle, Del., in 2015. He’d had discussions about the high rates of recidivism among ex-convicts with friend Matt Haley, a well-known Delaware restaurateur who died in 2014. The idea of a farming operation soon formed.
“It’s been a pretty remarkable journey, I will tell you,” he said. “We’re learning as we go and trying to make the least amount of mistakes.”
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