Less than two years after its launch, Second Chances Farm founder Ajit George had no plans to expand the indoor vertical farm based in Wilmington. Managing an urban farm during a pandemic presented enough of its own challenges — including the cancelation of every wholesale restaurant order of its greens, which are farmed almost exclusively by formerly incarcerated individuals.
Intrigued by the startup’s social mission of enabling returning citizens to become entrepreneurs, people from cities such as Chicago, Las Vegas and Atlanta extended invitations for George to plant seeds in their city. He still wouldn’t budge.
But when George was approached by Philly developer Michael Bailkin, he was all ears. Bailkin is part of a group of developers with plans of redeveloping the area around Amtrak’s North Philadelphia station into homes, research labs and offices.
“We were approached by Michael Bailkin, a lawyer and Temple alumnus who has been working for 10 years on project in Philadelphia called the North Station District project,” he told Technical.ly. “He approached me when he heard about our farm in Wilmington and asked if I’d do it in Philly. He felt his real estate project could benefit from a social impact project like ours.”
After meeting several times, George signed a letter of intent between Bailkin and his organization to build an indoor farm in Philly.
George said Bailkin found a 44,000-square foot-property in a North Philadelphia Opportunity Zone that would be a fit, and the two worked with the proposed property’s landlord to renovate a dilapidated building and allow for the construction of the second farm.
Collaborating with a real estate developer like Bailkin made sense for both sides, George said. Building an indoor farm could improve the value of the developer’s existing real estate and allows George to expand to a second location about 40 minutes away from the first Second Chances Farm in Wilmington.
“What we have is the chance to really do something spectacular in Philly,” George said.
A small team experienced with working at the existing farm in Wilmington will lead the expansion. And the model of the Philly site will be the same: bring access to opportunity and fresh food to the surrounding community.
“We want to attack food insecurity in a food desert, which North Philly is,” he said. “We want to also work with sponsors to help delivery to people that need it. We [already] do that in Wilmington.”
George and Bailkin are currently working with the property’s landlord to establish a formal lease and expect to have more details between June 1 and July 1.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.