The John Merck Fund is providing critical funding to the Wellspring Collaborative to develop a hydroponic greenhouse called Wellspring Harvest that will provide year-round local produce to institutions and commercial venues in western Massachusetts.
With JMF’s funds, Wellspring put together a detailed business plan, secured land, raised $900,000 in financing including $250,000 through a direct public offering, hired a skilled greenhouse grower and completed a site and building plan. Final site engineering and permits are in process, with construction to begin this spring. Wellspring also received a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to research the feasibility of building an anaerobic digester to provide a renewable energy source for the greenhouse.
Wellspring’s mission is to create a network of worker-owned companies that provide on-the-job training and wealth creation opportunities for low-income residents of Springfield. The organization’s five-year goal is to create more than 100 jobs through ten worker-owned companies. Wellspring’s companies provide goods and services to the region’s anchor institutions: the hospitals, colleges, and universities that are the largest employers and purchasers in western Massachusetts.
Local anchor institutions joined with community, labor, and economic development organizations to form Wellspring in 2010. In December 2013, Wellspring Upholstery opened its doors as its first cooperative business. That company now has seven employees and carries out $225,000 of work a year for colleges and hospitals in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Old Window Workshop joined Wellspring in 2016 as a women-owned cooperative that restores historic windows.
Wellspring appreciated JMF’s willingness to invest in their innovative and long-term development project, and looks forward to demonstrating over the next couple of years that its urban, hydroponic greenhouse can provide a source of year-round local produce and employment, as well as making a significant contribution to the region’s sustainable food system. So far, Baystate Health, Big Y Supermarkets, and Springfield Public Schools have all committed to purchasing produce from the greenhouse when it becomes available.
“When people think of air pollution, they tend to think of smokestacks spewing nasty stuff into the air. Our research has shown that the indoor environment is an important, if not more important, source of exposure to harmful chemicals.” –Robin Dodson, Silent Spring Institute
Did you ever wonder what’s in all that dust accumulating under your couch? Silent Spring Institute has discovered that there is more lurking in it than pet hair and food crumbs. This past September, Silent Spring teamed up with fellow JMF grantee the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as George Washington University, to release the first comprehensive analysis of consumer product chemicals found in dust in American homes.
The dust study compiled data from more than two dozen previous studies and identified 45 potentially toxic chemicals in indoor dust, ten of which were found to be present in more than 90 percent of samples. Chemicals called phthalates that are used in food wrapping and fragrances were found at the highest levels, followed by phenols and flame retardants. The researchers then estimated how much of the chemicals from dust get into children’s bodies and summarized the health hazard information. The study was well covered by major news outlets such as the Washington Post and Newsweek.
Besides publishing groundbreaking articles such as this one, Silent Spring also spearheads the Healthy Green Campus Project, which works to integrate chemicals and health into sustainability programs in higher education. In its first two years, the project has focused on flame retardant chemicals in colleges in New England, evaluating the impact that different flammability standards are having on student exposure and supporting campuses in both transitioning to better standards and procuring less toxic products. This year, thanks to scientific information provided by Silent Spring and its other partners, the City of Boston decided to update its fire code to move away from toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture. Now public spaces in the city, including its 30 higher education institutions, can be furnished with flame retardant-free furniture.