Year-round produce grower to create 200 jobs in Pike County

By Stacy M. Brown, Pocono Record Writer, May 21, 2015

Pike County Commissioner Matt Osterberg can finally exhale.

After six months of negotiations and the typical sweating out process that’s usually involved in closing big deals, Osterberg said he could now let out a sigh of relief after Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday that the Florida-based All Fresh Farms will establish a new facility in Greene Township creating at least 200 new jobs.

“When we first met with the firm about six or seven months ago, and we went over why they should come here, and as the process got closer, it was tough to keep quiet about it,” said Osterberg, who chairs the Economic Development Authority.

“It’s like being in sales, you are sure the deal will close, but you’re not 100 percent sure until it’s signed. We’ve been waiting for this day,” Osterberg said.

All Fresh Farms purchased the long-shuttered Swiss Maid Building on Mozzette Road, where the company plans to invest more than $3.4 million and double the facility size to 100,000-square-feet within the first five years.

The 200 jobs will have minimum hourly wages in the $12-$15 range, said Mike Sullivan, the executive director of the Pike County Economic Development Authority. Sullivan said, if all goes well, operations could be up and running by Sept. 1.

“The operation will have a harvest every 27 days, or 13 times a year. What’s interesting is that they’ll use a lot of neat technology, and we love this because of the environmental friendliness and, of course, the new jobs,” Sullivan said.

Steve Nelson, the company’s owner, said in a statement that he’s excited about opening the facility in Pike County and he was impressed with the interest displayed by Wolf’s team and the Department of Community and Economic Development.

“This strong welcome really solidified our decision to come to Pennsylvania,” Nelson said. “Our leafy vegetables and other produce will be labeled ‘locally grown,’ as we deliver to markets within 400 miles, which will include Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City. This is a great location with a great welcome to our company. We are looking forward to hiring and training employees this summer and hopefully selling our first crops by the fall.”

Dave Williams, a local farm producer and farm advocate, said the deal has the earmarks for success. “I had three interns from Delaware Valley College, and what we realize is that farming is way ahead of a lot of people and ideas. This hydroponic way has several advantages, including that they’ll be able to grow year round and having Philly and New York so close, it should really be good business,” Williams said.

All Fresh Farms is an indoor hydroponic production and packaging operation that specializes in growing lettuce mixes, kales and basil.

The hydroponic process grows plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water and without soil.

The process is relatively new, in that farmers are no longer limited because of the season, and they’re now able to grow produce and flowers at just about any time of the year.

In their agreement to locate in Pike County, All Fresh Farms received $400,000 Pennsylvania First Program grant, a $90,000 Workforce and Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania grant, and $400,000 in job creation tax credits.

They’ve also been asked to apply for a $500,000 First Industries Fund loan for machinery and equipment used in vegetable production and processing.

“This brings more tax dollars to the area as opposed to having to raise taxes,” Osterberg said. As an added bonus, Sullivan said the company is a good neighbor.

“It’s a nice investment, and it really fits nicely into Greentown. Also, people are always worried about what kind of neighbor they have or might have,” Sullivan said.

“Well, for so long they’ve had the worst kind of neighbor, an abandoned building. Now, they will have a friendly neighbor that’s bringing lots of jobs and revenue.”