South Bend could become a hub for hydroponics business

SOUTH BEND — The city council unanimously made a positive, unanimous recommendation Monday night for two tax cuts that could put South Bend at the center of the Indiana aquatic products market, and possibly the Midwest, for years to come.

JEM Farms South Bend plans to spend up to $178 million on greenhouses and logistics equipment to grow tomatoes and strawberries year-round on land at Calvert Street and Renewable Drive, adjacent to the South Bend Ethanol plant.

The facility is located on land owned by Ceres Partners, the agricultural investment group south of the University of Notre Dame campus and the original investors in Pure Green Farms.

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Pure Green, the brand name of Greenleaf Holdco, began hydroponic growing a variety of leafy greens in a new 4-acre greenhouse at a site near the ethanol plant in early 2021. Today, its products are distributed to establishments, grocery stores, and warehouses in all over the region.

Green produce is grown inside a large greenhouse on Pure Green Farms in South Bend.

The Pure Green facility has caught the attention of Paul J. Matronardi, a major figure in the aquatic products market throughout North America. He has invested in the Pure Green facility, but would also like to bring JEM operations to the area because he is also an investor in this business.

The location makes sense because there is ample room for operations to grow with Pure Green owning approximately 64 acres, and parent company Ceres owning 280 acres adjacent to it, said Joe McGuire, CEO of Pure Green. In addition, facilities can eventually use the heat from the residue and carbon dioxide coming from the nearby ethanol plant, and there is plenty of water to support hydroponics and its location is convenient for distribution.

“There are 55 million people within a 300-mile radius of Pure Green,” McGuire said. “And there are 75 million within 400 miles.”

Freshly cut and packed greens are transported into crates for shipment within Pure Green Farms in South Bend.

According to its proposal, the JEM could eventually spend about $178 million to build and equip about 100 acres of greenhouses over several years to produce tomatoes and strawberries under the Red Sun Farms brand. Ultimately, it says it could employ up to 110 people involved in farming, packaging and distribution.

JEM employees will get an average of about $29.77 an hour, and even with the cuts, the project will still generate about $2.5 million in taxes during the relief period, according to its implementation.

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