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Downtown: Freight Farms shipping container brings local lettuce to Concord

As the farming season ends, one Concord farm is just getting started.

A shipping container outside the Grappone Conference Center will become home to a hyrdoponic garden, growing plants year-round – even during snowstorms.

“Doesn’t look like a garden, does it?” said Steve Duprey as he watched a truck deliver the green-and-white shipping container Friday morning.

Duprey, whose company owns the conference center and its adjoining hotel, purchased the 40-foot container for $60,000 from Freight Farms, a Boston-based startup. The company repurposes shipping containers and turns them into gardens with vertical growing systems and LED lights. One container grows more than 3,600 plants, or the equivalent of an acre of agriculture.

Freight Farms will have 10 units across the country by

the end of the month, said Jon Friedman, who founded the company with Brad McNamara nearly four years ago. Duprey’s is the first Freight Farm in New Hampshire, and the first at a hotel.

Once planted, the equivalent of an acre of agriculture will grow vertically inside the Freight Farm. LED lights hang between the towers of plants. Irrigation is built into the system, which can be controlled and monitored from an iPad. McNamara said the farm requires human labor just once a week, to harvest the crop and plant new seeds.

The conference center and Courtyard by Marriott hotel can only use about one-third of the food the unit will produce. So Duprey said he is already in talks with other local restaurants and businesses, including the Concord Food Co-op and the new Live Juice restaurant on South Main Street. The hotel can bag the extra greens and sell them at a competitive price, especially during the winter months when greens are shipped to New Hampshire from warmer climates.

The bagged product will be called Steve’s Green’s, and Duprey already has a tagline: “Fresh, local, organic and perky.”

If the model is successful, Duprey hopes to buy 10 or more Freight Farms and place them across the state. Even before going public with his first Freight Farm, he started getting phone calls from potential partners.

“We’ve been contacted by some institutions saying, ‘We heard you’re growing greens in the winter – how are you doing that?’ ” he said.

Trish Taylor, executive chef for the hotel and conference center, was outside Friday morning to watch her new farm arrive. She said she now gets lettuce from Sysco that is grown in California.

Duprey said Taylor has always asked him for a garden. He found a solution when he read an article about Freight Farms nearly a year ago.

“When I read about it I said, ‘I think these folks are onto something really, really exciting,’ ” he said.

Duprey, a developer and Republican National Committee member, did not imagine himself entering the lettuce business.

“I grew up in North Conway and my dad had a very large vegetable garden,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d be back in it, but it’s fun.”

Developer choice delayed

The Concord City Council has not yet selected a developer for the state Employment Security site on South Main Street.

Officials had said a developer would be selected this summer. So what happened?

The city is deciding between proposals from two developers, city councilors told the Monitor during interviews before the municipal election.

City Manager Tom Aspell said last week that the council is still reviewing its options.

“What their next step would be would be to . . . accept, essentially, a development partner,” he said.

In January, the city asked for proposals from developers that could include market-rate housing and a mixture of retail, restaurant or office space. The city also suggested that the site could hold a public library if developers were interested. The deadline for proposals was extended in April, after officials said they had interest from multiple developers. After the city received the proposals, officials had said they expected to go before the city council in a nonpublic session in July. Proposals are not made public during negotiations.

Councilor Fred Keach told the Monitor that city officials are “working closely with one developer and doing some market studies,” but declined to offer specifics.

“The council’s seen a couple of proposals,” Keach said. “It’s all nonpublic so I can’t go into the details, but one is really impressive.”

Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said she is “really excited” about the potential development.

“I think that a multi-use facility is certainly best, and the idea of a library there . . . I think it’s going to be driven by opportunity,” Grady Sexton said.

Duprey, who has submitted a proposal to build apartments and a library on the entire block of South Main Street between Fayette and Thompson streets, said last week that he has not heard from the city.

“We understand the city had two proposals and we just hope to see the site developed,” he said.

Aspell said an announcement is expected in the coming months, if the city enters an agreement with a preferred developer.

“It’s really just finding the person to develop,” he said. “That’s where we are.”

Purple Pit packs up

The Purple Pit jazz club is closing its doors.

The club, which opened in May 2011 on the Pleasant Street Extension, will hold its final shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Its lease was not renewed, said Steve Guerrera, who opened the club with Tom LeMieux.

“Other than that, our trajectory was great,” Guerrera said. “Our body count was up and things were looking up.”

For a $10 cover fee, the Purple Pit offered live jazz music on Fridays and live blues music on Saturdays. This weekend will be the club’s grand finale.

“It’s been a great year and a half,” Guererra said. “We definitely proved that there’s a niche of people that just want live music.”

Though business had been picking up, Guerrera said he and LeMieux found they could not afford rent in other downtown buildings.

“We’re just going to take our final bows and say thank you to the city of Concord and then we’re just going to assess where we are, get through Christmas,” Guerrera said.

Bye, Blockbuster

The Blockbuster on Storrs Street will close by early January.

The movie rental store is now New Hampshire’s only Blockbuster. But the company said it will close its 300 remaining retail stores, according to an announcement last week from DISH Network Corporation. Its Blockbuster by Mail service will end next month.

“This is not an easy decision, yet consumer demand is clearly moving to digital distribution of video entertainment,” Joseph Clayton, the company’s president and CEO, said in a press release.

A manager at the Concord store said yesterday that he was not authorized to speak with reporters and has not received information about the store’s upcoming closure.

Big birthday plans

Planning is already under way for Concord’s 250th anniversary celebration in 2015.

Concord 250, a nonprofit organization formed to plan the celebrations, will hold a public meeting Wednesday night to gather input and ideas.

“There are no preconceived notions about what we’re going to be doing, how we’re going to be celebrating, and that’s why we’re going to be having this public meeting,” said Brent Todd, the organization’s president and the Ward 1 city councilor-elect.

The state recognized Concord as a town June 7, 1765. One item is already on the calendar for June 7, 2015: Opening a time capsule buried in the State House plaza on the city’s 200th anniversary in 1965.

Though Todd was not living in Concord in 1965, he said he has learned that the celebrations included a parade, a commemorative coin, a formal gala ball and a large community play called A Bend in the River performed at Memorial Field.

On Wednesday, Todd said the group will begin brainstorming possibilities for the 2015 celebration.

“And I do think it can also serve as a good economy booster and draw some attention to our city,” he said

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day; downtown parking is free for the day. City offices are closed, but trash pickup and fall leaf cleanup will continue.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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