Grant County residents could see locally grown produce in grocery stores and public institutions this year, if the John Day Innovation Gateway greenhouse project proceeds as planned.
Matt Manitsas presented the latest plans for the commercial greenhouse project to the John Day City Council at their Dec. 12 meeting. The council authorized spending $105,000 from the city’s sewer fund to pay for a full-time employee to run the greenhouse and for related materials and services. Manitsas, a Grant Union High School and Oregon State University graduate, was hired to oversee the greenhouse project on Aug. 14.
The city has partnered with Sustainable Water of Glen Allen, Virginia, to build a 5,600-square-foot greenhouse at the former Oregon Pine mill site in John Day. The company is also involved in designing a new wastewater treatment plant for the city.
Greenhouse construction is slated to start in July, with first crop sales by mid-October. About $50,000 for site preparation will come from the city’s sewer and general funds, and the estimated $350,000 cost for construction will come from a state loan.
The council approved a loan application to Business Oregon Infrastructure Finance Authority on Dec. 12. The city will also need about $255,000 to cover the first year’s operating expenses. Business Oregon has agreed to reimburse the city as they incur operating expenses, City Manager Nick Green said. The city is also looking at other financing options, he noted.
The greenhouse is expected to meet 100 percent of John Day’s produce demand, about 1,200 pounds of leafy greens, fruits and herbs per week, and the loans will be paid back through produce sales. Green estimated the city would need to market at least three-quarters of the greenhouse harvest to meet loan payments.
“The greenhouse will be designed to operate as a break-even venture in its first year of operation,” he said.
The city has discussed produce sales with Chester’s Thriftway, Huffman’s Select Market, Blue Mountain Hospital and local schools, Green said. The pilot-scale greenhouse could be expanded, if successful, and transition from city water to reclaimed water from the wastewater treatment plant in the future.
Designs presented by Manitsas showed three 25-by-75-foot greenhouse bays lined up side-by-side, with the middle bay offset to provide viewing windows on an inlet between the outer buildings on the south side and an outlet for truck unloading doors on the north side.
In Manitsas’ presentation, one side bay contained hydroponic tanks and the other side bay contained hanging plants. The 8-millimeter twin-wall polycarbonate walls will provide some insulation, but in the future reclaimed water could heat the greenhouses in winter and cool them in summer. Reclaimed water is typically over 60 degrees, so the principle is comparable to geothermal heating and cooling, Manitsas said.
The greenhouse facility is expected to attract tourists passing by on Highway 26 — especially when it’s lit up at night, Manitsas said. Visitors will be able to view the interior through the south-side windows without entering the greenhouses and potentially contaminating the facility with noxious weeds or other pests. A portion of the greenhouse could be reserved for research purposes, Green said.