Yorkville City Council OKs 100-acre greenhouse lettuce farm plan

This map shows the site for the proposed Bright Farms lettuce production facility at the northeast corner of Eldamain and Corneils roads on Yorkville's far northwest side. (City of Yorkville)

YORKVILLE – Site preparation is expected to get underway within three weeks on a 100-acre greenhouse lettuce farm that city officials hope will kickstart development along the Eldamain Road corridor.

The Yorkville City Council on May 10 approved an agreement with grower Bright Farms for the lettuce production facility at the northeast corner of Eldamain and Corneils roads on the far northwest side of the city.

Bright Farms ultimately plans to build four 8-acre greenhouse “modules” and employ about 200 people to grow the salad greens.

Aldermen approved the project on a 6-2 roll-call vote.

Those in favor included aldermen Dan Transier, Ken Koch, Matt Marek, Seaver Tarulis, Jason Peterson and Joe Plocher. Voting no were aldermen Chris Funkhouser and Craig Soling.

Bright Farms Project Manager Sean O’Neill said the first of the four gigantic greenhouses should be in operation a year from now.

Meanwhile, Bright Farms will begin assembling a staff, starting with a search for a general manager, O’Neill said.

Unable to use chlorinated drinking water for growing its lettuce, Bright Farms plans to drill a well on the property.

City Engineering Consultant Brad Sanderson previously told aldermen that the lettuce facility would be tapping into a different aquifer from the one Yorkville currently uses to supply water to residents.

“We do not believe that the city’s wells will be adversely affected by the proposed well,” Sanderson wrote in a memo to aldermen.

Yet worries about the water supply were uppermost in the minds of aldermen, including some who voted in favor of the project.

“I’m concerned about the water, but I’m also concerned about people and jobs leaving Illinois, and this is a real opportunity,” Transier said.

Both Funkhouser and Soling cited their concerns about the amount of water to be pumped, estimated at 75 million gallons per year.

I didn’t feel it was right to dig wells and pump water when we’re trying to get Lake Michigan water here,” Soling said. “It seems like a conflict of interest.”

During deliberations at previous meetings, O’Neill had emphasized that the lettuce farm will recapture and reuse the water while also making use of rain water.

The extension of sewer service to the site will allow for future development along Eldamain Road.

The city has applied for a $1 million federal Community Development Block Grant to help cover the cost of the $2.8 million sewer extension that will service the lettuce farm.

For Yorkville officials, the sanitary sewer line extension is considered critical not only for the lettuce farm project, but to attract and serve other businesses along the Eldamain Road corridor, which they view as a future economic engine for the community.

The city will contribute to $150,000 to the cost of the sewer line extension.

“The goal has been to get that sewer out there at minimal cost,” Mayor John Purcell said.

The city expects to recapture some of its costs when new industrial users along Eldamain Road pay hookup fees for the sewer service.

Bright Farms will be required to improve Corneils Road between Eldamain and Beecher roads. Access to the lettuce farm will be from Corneils Road.

Under the agreement, Bright Farms will complete the Corneils improvement between Eldamain and its access driveway before the facility opens. The section between the access point and Beecher must be finished within three years of opening.

How quickly the company builds out its greenhouse plan will depend on how rapidly the market absorbs the tons of lettuce that the grower expects to produce, O’Neill said.

The grower is expected start with one of the mammoth greenhouses and then add a new one about every two years, depending on sales.

Bright Farms started in rural Pennsylvania with a business model of growing fresh, local lettuce and herbs to be shipped directly to retailers within 24 hours for a longer shelf life and smaller carbon footprint.