SPRINGFIELD — By fall, between five and nine currently unemployed people will be working in a new hydroponic greenhouse growing salad greens for major local institutions like Baystate Medical Center, the public schools and Big Y supermarket.
That’s the plan from Wellspring Harvest, which broke ground Thursday at the former Chapman Valve site at 121 Pinevale St. in Indian Orchard.
“This will be a great place to go grow food. This will be a great place to grow people,” said greenhouse manager and grower Stephen Hilyard.
The 2-acre project continues the process of putting the old factory property back to productive use, said Kevin Kennedy, city chief development officer.
Once one of the country’s largest manufacturers of valves and fire hydrants, Chapman Valve had nearly 3,500 employees. The company supplied valves to the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bomb, and later machined uranium rods into slugs for reactor fuel at Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1949, Chapman may have also conducted rolling operations on uranium metal.
Parts of the factory site, once 54 acres in size, were contaminated with radioactive waste that has since been cleaned up. Another part of the campus on Goodwin Street is the site of a 12-acre, 2.3-megawatt solar facility constructed by Western Massachusetts Electric Co., featuring 8,200 solar panels.
“I think it’s amazing that we have been able to redevelop this site with ‘green’ uses,” Kennedy said.
Inside the 15,120-square-foot greenhouse, Hilyard said, herbs and salad greens like bok choy, cilantro and Boston lettuce will be grown in channels of nutrient-filled water set at working height. The plants at Wellspring Harvest never touch the ground. There are no pesticides.
“It’s a very clean product. From the moment we plant a seed, its food,” Hilyard said.
Wellspring Cooperative Corp. looked during more than two years for a site to create the greenhouse,