SOUTH BEND - Ivy Tech Community College and Green Sense Farms have entered into a partnership to build a 20,000-square-foot “vertical farm” on land transferred by the college to the Portage-based grower on Sample Street in South Bend.
The announcement ends two years of speculation about the project, which also involves the city of South Bend. A ceremonial ground-breaking is set for Wednesday.
According to a press release, the state-of-the-art, $3 million to $4 million facility will be utilized for workforce training so that students better understand future opportunities in farming.
Courses will begin as non-credit or “through” courses complementing other programs while the school develops a curriculum for the program, and students will receive training in transferable skills for areas such as food service, retail and industrial maintenance.
Ivy Tech, for its part, will gain access to the vertical farming labs without the large-scale investment needed to acquire equipment, the release states.
“It’s a working commercial farm, meaning we will be providing produce every day to the community, and it’s a hands-on training center,” said Robert Colangelo, founder and CEO of Green Sense.
Items such as micro-greens, baby greens, lettuces and herbs will be grown at the facility to support local markets, restaurants and colleges, Colangelo said, including Martin’s Super Market, the University of Notre Dame, the Morris Inn, Café Navarre, Four Winds Casino and Sodexo, the food service provider for Memorial Hospital and Saint Mary’s College.
The facility will employ 10 students every six months in “earn to learn” roles, Colangelo said, plus five full-time employees who will earn $30,000 to $50,000 per year. The students will work 20 hours per week and gain hands-on experience in all aspects of the business.
Students who are interested in the retail or food service sides of the industry will train with the partner organizations as well, Colangelo said, with opportunities to work for those organizations afterward.
“The plan is that they graduate job-ready so that they’ve got real hands-on skills,” he said. “And more importantly, the much-needed soft skills that employers are looking for.”
Colangelo said he is working with Mike Keen, director of the Center for a Sustainable Future at Indiana University South Bend, to develop a curriculum for the course so students can earn credit for it and professional certification.