Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Congressman Jim Himes (D-4) announced a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to support the expansion of a hydroponic lettuce business in Bridgeport.
MetroCrops LLC, a high density, indoor, urban farming initiative, will receive $448,000 to build precision controlled UV radiation devices that will help grow high quality, nutrient-rich hydroponic lettuce in a previously unoccupied Bridgeport space.
The objective of the project is to support a facility that can grow crops using fewer resources than traditional farming in an environment that is not threatened by climate change. The project is also intended to bring fresh, affordable produce to urban areas that often lack easy access to healthy food.
Construction and maintenance of the growing operation will bring new business to Bridgeport. MetroCrops LLC plans to work with Bridgeport company Howey Manufacturing to build the grow units that will house the hydroponic lettuce crops. The farming initiative also expects to hire four new employees to oversee the Bridgeport project. MetroCrops LLC currently employees two people.
Blumenthal said, "I am thrilled a company as innovative as MetroCrops LLC is receiving the support of the USDA and SBIR. Businesses that create jobs and offer sustainable, affordable, healthy food options to city residents are critical to the people of Connecticut's future health and success. I will continue to support funding for SBIR programs in Congress."
Murphy said, "MetroCrops LLC has found a creative, sustainable way to bring healthy, affordable food to areas that need it most. Unique designs like this one deserve support, and I'm glad the Department of Agriculture agrees. I look forward to seeing this project grow and thrive in Bridgeport, and I hope it can serve as a model for other urban areas with the same needs."
Himes said, "Innovation around locally produced food and the economic revitalization of urban cities is vital to Connecticut's quality of life and future growth. I'm proud that my district produces creative companies like MetroCrops LLC that create jobs and boost the economy, and I'm glad to support the USDA SBIR funding that helps these companies innovate and expand."
Claire Leonardi, CEO of Connecticut Innovations, whose SBI division provided strategic guidance to help MetroCrops LLC win the federal grant, said, "This innovation solves so many challenging agricultural problems, and has the added benefit of being good for Connecticut's economy. These are the ventures Connecticut Innovations is excited to support to help grow the economy and improve the job outlook for the residents of Connecticut."
Nancy Domyan and Steve Domyan, co-founders of MetroCrops LLC said, "We are very excited about receiving this Phase II SBIR grant from NIFA/USDA. Our research will pave the way for creating year-round, non-minimum wage indoor farming jobs in the middle of urban centers like Bridgeport. And what we learn from setting up and working in our UHDI (Urban High Density Indoor) farm will define a procedure for re-purposing empty factory buildings for this type of growing. We have a lot of research to do in the months ahead. What we do during the course of this grant will further optimize the science of growing indoors."