Century-old building to be restored for vertical farming facility to grow local produce; restaurant, banquet hall, and non-profit educational center to be added with focus on sustainability
Westfield residents Michele Modestino and Greg Redington announced the start of their new business venture, Redi-farms, LLC, an indoor, vertical, hydroponic farm, providing a locally grown food source to the community.
REDI-farms will be located at 610 North Avenue East, in the 100 year-old brick industrial building previously owned by Handler Manufacturing. Michele & Greg plan to restore the building to its historical grandeur with an industrial-chic atmosphere to house the vertical farm. After living in town for 28 years, the pair have received many historic preservation awards on previous projects, including their Queen Anne Victorian home. They hope to emulate the modern industrial style they designed for their REDCOM offices on North Avenue.
“As an architect and engineer with an appreciation for the past, our adaptive re-use approach to historic buildings has always been a passion. Continuing the mindset of a low carbon footprint by reducing waste, we aim to bring old buildings back to life with a fresh, new use,” said Modestino.
Redi-farms plans to provide a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables for purchase to the local community. With sustainability efforts top of mind, Redi-farms intends to avoid the use of all plastics in their packaging and in other single use applications. “We only have one planet, and to sustain it properly we need to minimize how much waste we generate and how many natural resources we use up,” Redington said.
The building will also contain a mostly plant-based high-end restaurant, a retail “farm store,” a teaching kitchen for adult classes, a banquet hall for up to 80 people and a large educational not-for-profit component. School children from Westfield and nearby towns will have the opportunity to learn about modern, sustainable farming and how healthy food can be grown locally throughout the year.
“Redi-farms will give our community access to fresh healthy food, grown locally, year-round,” added Modestino. “If you see a green pepper in a supermarket in February, it has traveled over 1,000 miles to get here. With Redi-farms, Union County residents will be able to buy one that has been grown under the same roof as our farm store.”
As a vegan and vegetarian, respectively, Modestino and Redington value education about the importance of eating healthy and understanding the details of where food is sourced, along with the environmental impact it has on the planet and the ongoing issue of food insecurity.
“The pandemic brought to light issues of food insecurity and the need to keep it local. It was during this time that Michele and I thought up the idea of Redi-farms,” added Redington.
The redevelopment plan for the property was introduced at the June 29 Town Council meeting with a presentation by planning firm Topology. The property resides in an inclusionary housing zone, which would have required 100% residential development, but through the redevelopment plan the property can now be adaptively reused for the vertical indoor farm.
Following the June 29 Town Council meeting, the redevelopment plan will be referred to the Planning Board, whose recommendations are expected to be brought back to the Town Council at their July 13 meeting for a final vote.
“I’m very grateful for the vision Greg and Michele have brought forth to enable a broad community benefit at this site,” said Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle. “Their commitment to thoughtful restoration of this building and Redi-farms’ sustainability model make this repurposed use of the building truly innovative. Instead of a 40-unit apartment building, we now have a much more versatile outcome that was made possible by Westfield’s excellent standing with the Council on Affordable Housing.”
“We are grateful to the Town of Westfield for their knowledge in utilizing the redevelopment tools that will enable us to save this 100 year-old building, giving it a new life with a completely modern, sustainable, and healthy business from which all Westfield residents can benefit,” said Redington.
Pending final approvals by the Town Council, the newly named Greene Building will begin immediate renovation in anticipation of starting farm production and sales by winter of 2021. Final completion of the restaurant, teaching kitchen and educational facilities is expected to be completed in late 2022.