Wellspring Harvest and Springfield's Salad Days

Springfield’s Salad Days

The question has vexed the residents and policymakers of Springfield, MA, for decades: How can the community breathe new life into a once thriving economy decimated by the decline of its industrial and manufacturing base?

Thanks to Wellspring Harvest, we have an answer: lettuce. Rows and rows and rows of fresh, delicious lettuce.

No, not the answer, but Wellspring Harvest, the city’s first commercial hydroponic greenhouse and the largest urban greenhouse in Massachusetts, is providing an answer for Springfield – in the form of new jobs, wealth creation, and fresh, local produce. Wellspring Harvest made its first deliveries in August 2018 and now delivers 15,000 heads of four types of lettuce per month to a growing list of area grocers and institutions, including Baystate and Mercy Medical Centers, Western New England University, Mt. Holyoke College, Whole Foods Market, and 15 Big Y locations.

Wellspring Harvest follows Wellspring Upholstery and the Old Window Workshop as the third (and largest) worker-owned cooperative developed by The Wellspring Cooperative Corporation, a community-based organization with a mission to create a network of worker-owned companies in Springfield.


“A key to people improving their economic situation is building assets, which can be a challenge to people without resources. The co-op helps people build those assets,” says Fred Rose, co-director of the Wellspring Cooperative Corporation. “Many people here don’t have farm experience; they learn as they work. After a year, they can become a member of the co-op and share in the profits.” 

Wellspring Harvest currently has 8 staff, including part-time, three of whom are profit-sharing members.

It’s fitting that the City of Firsts and the birthplace of basketball and Dr. Seuss would be home to this innovative initiative. Wellspring Harvest is a distinctly Springfield venture; even the location bridges the city’s rich history and current efforts to spur the economy. Built on the old Chapman Valve site in Indian Orchard, the quarter-acre greenhouse with its polyethylene roof has invigorated barren land with new purpose, bringing productivity back to a location that seemed to have its best days behind it.

“The impact on the neighborhood is significant,” Rose says. “Parents and grandparents worked at the Chapman plant. Everyone knows this as a dirty old industrial site. But now they see the greenhouse creating jobs here and Springfield remaking itself and transitioning to a greener future.”

The idea to establish a greenhouse in Springfield “emerged out of lots of conversations” with stakeholders and partners and “grew out of partnerships with anchor institutions,” according to Rose. It reflects both the large number of health facilities and schools around Western Massachusetts – which provide a natural consumer base – and the mainstreaming of the “Buy Local” movement, which motivates people and institutions to support their community with their food purchases.

The local mission isn’t the only “value add” that Wellspring Harvest offers. Hydroponic farming, which is soilless and utilizes flowing nutrient-rich water for growing, doesn’t need harsh chemicals and pesticides and can produce higher crop yields than traditional farming. The result? The facility produces chemical-free, healthy greens 12 months a year. That’s welcome news to people concerned about produce imported from far-flung places losing freshness and nutrients or worse, as was the case with recent contaminated Romaine lettuce recalls. And it allows the greenhouse to supply area institutions with fresh produce year-round, including during the months that are too cold for outdoor farming in New England.

In order to ensure reliability as a year-round supplier, Wellspring Harvest applied for – and won – a Local Farmer Award. Established by Harold Grinspoon in 2015 and now in its fifth year, the Local Farmer Awards provide farms in the Western Massachusetts region up to $2,500 to fund infrastructure improvements. This year, 62 farms received a total of $142,500 in awards. Altogether, the program has supported area farms with more than $500,000 in awards over five years. Major partners BIG Y and Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation fund the awards along with a group of sponsors that continues to grow: Ann and Steve Davis, FARM CREDIT EAST, FRIENDLY’S, HP HOOD LLC,  PEOPLESBANKSHERATON SPRINGFIELD MONARCH PLACE, BAYSTATE HEALTH, and EASTERN STATES EXPOSITION.

Wellspring Harvest used its Local Farmer Award to install an electric generator, a critical piece of hardware which, in the event of a power outage, keeps the irrigation pumps, heat, and critical infrastructure in the greenhouse running. Wellspring made it through its first winter without the generator, but, says Rose, “We were sweating through a few storms because it seemed the power would go out.” While the now-installed generator provides welcome security against any power disruptions, it will also support plans for expanded LED lighting, which is needed to prevent a decline in crop production during dark winter months.

The greenhouse is now better equipped to handle the coming winter, but Wellspring’s relationships with the community it serves will ultimately determine its success as it approaches its second year of operations.  

“This is really a community project,” says Rose. “We’ve built the partnerships to make this succeed.” That community includes the consortium of partners who fund the Local Farm Awards, which includes Big Y. “Big Y has been very supportive. They gave feedback and gave us time to test in a few stores and then expand. What’s great about Big Y is the ability to supply individual locations.”

"Big Y is proud to be the first supermarket chain to support Wellspring Harvest as part of our ongoing effort to support local products especially local farmers,” says Charlie D’Amour, president of Big Y. “Our customers and our employee teams appreciate the opportunity to support local every day in our markets. We are happy to be able to sell their lettuces in our local stores."

Moving forward, Wellspring Harvest aims to expand, increasing capacity and creating more jobs for Indian Orchard. They already have the land to double the size of the greenhouse, and there’s the possibility of purchasing additional land. Rose estimates at full production the expanded greenhouse, in addition to increasing production, could employ 20 people. That’s a lot of green for the community.

Thanks to Wellspring Harvest, it looks as though Springfield’s salad days are here to stay.