Group exploring greenhouse idea to use power plant’s steamA commercial greenhouse growing fresh produce during the winter in North Dakota? For some area residents, that idea may sound preposterous. But a surprising number of people are excited and enthusiastic about exploring the potential of a commercial greenhouse.
A commercial greenhouse growing fresh produce during the winter in North Dakota?
For some area residents, that idea may sound preposterous. But a surprising number of people are excited and enthusiastic about exploring the potential of a commercial greenhouse.
Jim Boyd, president of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. Board who chairs the greenhouse committee, said the initial idea stemmed from the availability of steam heat. Great River Energy’s power plant, Spiritwood Station, will use steam heat to generate electricity. It will then sell the processed steam to others, such as Cargill Malt, in the Spiritwood Energy Park.
“Ray Albrecht from Cargill came up with the idea because of the need for fresh produce in the winter,” Boyd said. “He suggested the JSDC look into the feasibility of a commercial greenhouse sharing the steam from the power plant.”
The idea of combining steam heat with a commercial greenhouse was a novel one, Boyd said, but it caught on quickly.
“We’ve seen lots and lots of interest in the community and have over 40 people on the committee,” he said. “Now it’s got a life of its own.”
In fact, the idea generated such interest that the JSDC added it as a project in its strategic plan. So far, Boyd said, the group has been bringing in various experts to discuss the greenhouse idea and its potential.
“We’re gathering information to determine whether or not to go to the next step,” he said. “Then we’ll need a feasibility study.”
Along with the study, Boyd said, they’ll be researching what other greenhouses have done and looking at other studies. He also wants to visit some commercial greenhouses. There’s one in Winnipeg, Canada, and one in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “This process will take at least 12 more months. We’re not going to jump into anything.”
Regardless of the need to move cautiously, Boyd said, the brainstorming abounds.
Boyd said he wouldn’t want to compete with other producers in the area, so he’s pondering trees — cherries, oranges, lemons and limes, for example. The fresh produce could perhaps be celery, lettuce or other off-season items.
“We’d want to complement area growers,” he said. “And maybe we’re looking too myopically. We may need to open the aperture.”
Stutsman County Extension Agent Lance Brower agrees a commercial greenhouse is too narrow a focus. He believes it would be a waste of the steam heat to use it solely on a greenhouse. Plus, there’s the need for cooling in the summer.
But processing greenhouse-grown produce would use steam heat year-round.
“I’m trying to get a processing plant rather than a greenhouse,” Brower said.
The value-added aspect of processing appeals to JSDC CEO Connie Ova. There’s more money and employment in processing, she said. She compares the idea to Cavendish Farms. Most of the potatoes are grown locally so farmers benefit. Plus, Cavendish employs more than 200 people to turn the potatoes into French fries.
In addition to local producers and employees, local customers would benefit from processing fresh area produce. There’s even support at the federal government level for local gardens.
“Bring it back to the local level and you know what you’re getting,” Ova said.
If a processing facility for fresh produce was available, Brower said he believes more growers in the area would get into producing via greenhouses.
“They need a place to market the produce,” he said. “You’d see a lot of mom-and-pop-type shops in the region.”
Brower advises the use of geothermal energy for heating and cooling greenhouses. He said it’s expensive up front, but it uses very little electricity. At an estimated $1,000 a month for geothermal versus $60,000 a year for propane, he said, geothermal is the best way to go. And in the winter when the days are short, the greenhouse could use grow lights.
“The idea of greenhouses in North Dakota is wonderful,” he said. “There’s a huge variety of fresh produce we could grow. We could have tomatoes with their high Vitamin C content commercially grown locally all winter.”
Ova and Brower both said there are state funds available for value-added projects.
Regardless of what direction the potential project takes, whether a commercial greenhouse, a processing facility or a combination of the two, Boyd said, it’s an exciting time.
“There are a lot of people who want to be a part of this,” he said. “There are so many potential spinoffs and complementary businesses too. I’m very enthusiastic about it.”
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at email@example.com