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Firm seeks zoning variance to build micro farm out of shipping containers near Buffalo Broadway market

Fillmore Farms says it could begin operating in a few months in the production of fresh herbs and leafy greens.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — On Wednesday the principals involved in a new venture which proposes to grow fresh produce inside of shipping containers will appear before Buffalo's Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a variance for their project.

Fillmore Farms wants to place ten, 40' long shipping containers on a vacant lot next to 205 Lombard Street across from the Broadway Market and create a year-round growing operation to produce herbs and leafy greens.

"We wanted to be in a place that was working on a lot of revitalization and with the investments being made in the Broadway Market and the Central Terminal we thought it was a great area that's starting to be developed," said Gabe Bialkowski, who founded Ellicottville Greens, a similar type of operation in the Southern Tier, and who will be the farm management partner of the newly formed group. 

Fillmore Farms is getting $644,000 in taxpayer money from a New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative, a program established by the Cuomo administration several years ago, and which awarded $10 million to the Broadway Fillmore area. 

"It involves some new technology and so bringing these to communities takes a little bit of community support.

A Versatile Box Great for Growing

Shipping containers which are relatively inexpensive, widely available, and highly versatile, have been turned into everything from bars, to stores, to apartments, and restrooms.

But they're also ideal for growing plants, according to Bialkowski.

"These containers provide microclimate environments, so instead of having to build a bunch of small grow rooms inside a warehouse we can utilize these containers with a shell to launch these microclimates," he said. "We can then dial in the proper nutrients, lighting spectrum, temperature, and humidity to precisely what the crop we are growing in it wants."

And while they're often referred to as "micro" farms, in one sense there's nothing micro about them.

"What's nice about a container is that because of the vertical nature of it, with five different tiers, we're able to grow a lot of produce within these units," said Bialkowski. "When you talk about lettuce, for example, one container can produce about 1,000 heads of lettuce per week."

While the vast majority of their fresh produce will be sold to a wholesaler, Fillmore Farms also seeks to partner with community agencies, in order to arrange for some of its crops to be made available, at a reasonable price, to neighborhood residents.

What they need first, however, is a variance because, among other things, the containers aren't on foundations and don't have windows. 

But if they get it, they say they can begin operating, in just a few months.


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