New Opportunities to grow vegetables, herbs at aquaponic farm in Torrington

Thursday, March 1, 2018
Register Citizen
Torrington, CT

To encourage community growth, New Opportunities Inc. is looking to create life in an unused Field Street warehouse.

The regional community action agency plans to create an aquaponic farm and grow lettuce, basil, thyme and other herbs with the help of a local workforce.

Bill Rybczyk, director of research, development and planning, said the project has been in the works for more than five years, after the organization’s president and CEO, Dr. James Gatling, offered the idea.

“At the same time, any venture that New Opportunities would want to get involved in needed to be in alignment with our mission,” Rybczyk said, noting Gatling had been interested in the idea’s science. “It needed to be able to create employment opportunities, (with) the added elements of having an impact in the community and being able to increase the inventory of healthy and nutritious produce that’s available.”

The group’s move to 59 Field St. — home of The Register Citizen and other businesses — ushered the possibility forward.

As it expanded, Rybczyk said the agency was looking to move from Migeon Avenue to be near the Northwest Regional Workforce Board, which has neighboring offices.
Rybczyk said when he first saw the Field Street building, possibilities sprang to mind.
“I was drawn to the warehouse space, because I was saying — this is perfect for our vision,” Rybczyk said.

The Connecticut Bond Commission awarded a $1 million loan to the nonprofit agency, allowing it to establish the project.

An aquaponic farm works with the aid of fish — tilapia, in this case — that provide the fertilizer that allows the vegetables to grow, Rybczyk said.
It’s a recirculating system, which limits the amount of water used — the water is filtered by the plants, according to a news release from state Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington.

The agency intends to hire about 30 workers to staff the farm. It would provide an opportunity for people in need of work to step into an emerging field, Rybczyk said.

The timeline for getting the project off the ground is uncertain, but Rybczyk estimated they could begin growing vegetables soon after the start of 2019.

Rybczyk said it’s an exciting venture, providing local jobs with room to grow, and has special meaning for him. He moved to Torrington as a child and still has family in the city.

“For me personally, it’s exciting to see this in my hometown,” Rybczyk said. “It’s been a lot of effort, a lot of work, a lot of hours, time invested, so to see it now on the cusp of coming to fruition is really exciting.”

Cook applauded the bond commission’s decision.

“I have worked with New Opportunities to secure this bonding for several years, and now they have the capital they need to move forward with a project that benefits our entire community. The farm will create jobs, provide workers training in a hi-tech field, and give residents more access to fresh, local produce,” Cook said in a news release. “This project is on the cutting edge of technology — farming today is so much more than the image we have of Old McDonald’s farm. This is an investment to train workers in a growing industry.”
New Opportunities serves Torrington, Winsted, Waterbury, Meriden and 27 other nearby communities in Connecticut, according to the organization, providing “a variety of social service programs designed to eliminate poverty and assist people in need.”
In Winsted, it is part of Winchester Energy Services office, 716 Main St. For information, call 860-738-9138. In Torrington, call 860-482-9749.

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