Berlin green houses

With the Nansen Ski Jump in the distance, an excavator sits dormant Sept. 8 after crews from Lancaster’s A.B. Excavating completed clearing a 22-acre parcel on East Milan Road in Berlin that will be the future home of the North Country Growers’ greenhouse complex. The facility will have more than 80 workers and will produce salad greens and tomatoes.

BERLIN — The developer of a $58 million hydroponic greenhouse complex on the city’s East Side expects it will employ more than 80 people.

The facility is being developed by North Country Growers LLC — which is a subsidiary of Cambridge, Mass.-based American Ag Energy — on the site of the former Berlin municipal landfill on East Milan Road.

In January, North County Growers completed its purchase of the 172-acre parcel from the city, and A.B. Excavating of Lancaster recently completed clearing and also installing erosion controls on a 22-acre portion of the property. The company expects the greenhouse to open next year.

Richard Rosen, CEO of American Ag Energy, said Monday the greenhouses are expected to be operational “approximately a year from now,” and to annually produce 8 million pounds of tomatoes and 15 million heads of lettuce a year for the New England market.

“We’re the only such facility in Coos County,” said Rosen, adding “This is a very advanced facility. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the Northeast.”

According to North Country Growers, the Berlin greenhouses will not use any pesticides and will capture and recycle fertilizer inputs, while consuming a 12th of the water used in California to grow the same crops.

Additionally, there will be a considerable reduction in trucking-related emissions because the crops will be grown close to their market. That proximity, said North Country Growers, will mean that tomatoes and lettuce — most of which are grown in California, Arizona, Florida and Mexico — will be delivered on the same day they are harvested.

The Berlin facility will “drastically mitigate the risk of E. coli contamination in our produce,” because it will be grown hydroponically, not in soil, said North Country Growers.

“Our produce is also more nutrient dense than remotely grown outdoor lettuce due to losses of nutrient value in shipping,” the company said.

North Country Growers said it expects to achieve “industry leading profit margins and yield increases in excess of 30% compared to standard greenhouses.”

The project has previously received a $25 million guaranteed loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Business Program; in 2017, Berlin was designated an Opportunity Zone by Gov. Chris Sununu to provide investors a tax incentive for their unrealized capital gains.

The Berlin greenhouses will create more than 80 good-paying jobs with benefits, said Rosen, something that will help the economically-challenged North Country.

While North Country Growers already has customers who are committed to purchasing its crops, Rosen declined to identify them, citing nondisclosure agreements.

“We will have our own brand,” he said, and the companies who sell those branded products “are major customers in the produce business.”

Rosen thanked the city of Berlin for being “extraordinary to work with,” saying city officials have been “unbelievably helpful in every way.”

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said on Monday that with the site work, it’s “full speed ahead” for North Country Growers.

“Things are looking promising for Richard and his group,” who over the course of more than five years, have gone from an idea to almost “actually growing vegetables.”

“It’s a very exciting day for a lot of us in the North Country,” he said.

While disappointed that a second greenhouse facility proposed in Berlin by Burgess BioPower is not moving forward, Grenier said the owners are “looking at a couple other projects.”