WEDC investment to help fund renovation of vacant building into an urban vertical farm

RIPON, WI. JULY 22, 2020 – The City of Ripon is receiving a $190,000 state grant to help in the renovation of a vacant former grocery store into an indoor urban vertical farm produce operation with the potential for retail operations and a future rooftop garden.

The Community Development Investment (CDI) Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) will support the expansion of Ernessi Farms’ urban vertical farm produce operation using the vacant space.

“A vibrant blend of businesses is vital to a community’s overall economic success, and the urban vertical farm redevelopment will serve as a catalyst for future development and investment in the Ripon community,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC. “I congratulate the community for working together on this important project that will serve as a foundation for future economic growth and for the collective good of the local economy.”

Ripon is home to one of the largest vertical farms in the state since Ernessi Farms moved its operation to Wisconsin in 2015. Vertical farming is revolutionizing the agricultural industry by using innovative technology to provide fresh and local produce to urban and rural areas that would otherwise have to transport large quantities of fresh produce over long distances.

“Ernessi Farms has been an excellent member of the Ripon community for many years now,” said Ripon Mayor Theodore Grant. “I am pleased to see them expanding. This new location should be a great fit for Ernessi Farms, and I am intrigued to see the future rooftop garden.”

With this expansion, Ernessi Farms is expected to more than double their output of produce in the first phase, with room to expand into new products and markets in the future. This will make Ernessi Farms the largest indoor vertical farm in the state of Wisconsin.

“This WEDC grant will help the City of Ripon redevelop the old grocery store on the corner of Fond du Lac Street and Blackburn Street,” said state Sen. Luther Olsen. “The grant will provide an opportunity for a new and innovative business to become a part of the Ripon community.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Ernessi Farms to double their production and create new jobs in the community, as well as aid in the revitalization of downtown Ripon and Fond du Lac County,” said state Rep. Joan Ballweg. “This business is already successful, and this grant will allow for their natural growth in a developing, non-traditional area of agriculture.”

“We are honored to have been selected for this grant. Located in the heart of our downtown, this redevelopment project will create a significant benefit to Ripon’s downtown revitalization efforts and the entire community,” said Lori Rich, city administrator and treasurer for the City of Ripon. “The project will not only improve the assessed value of the former property, but more importantly will add new employment opportunities, particularly for our community’s disabled workforce. WEDC continues to be a strong partner in redevelopment efforts in Ripon, inspiring continued investment in the amenities that Ripon is proud of.”

The expansion of Ernessi Farms has the potential to make a significant impact on the community, county and region. The project will promote Ripon’s ongoing downtown area revitalization and economic development within the community and beyond. Additionally, vertical farming often utilizes space in vacant buildings that may otherwise become problem areas for communities.

“We’re incredibly excited to move forward with our expansion in historic downtown Ripon. Once complete, we’ll be able to offer our fresh, locally grown produce year-round to an expanded delivery area covering the whole state,” said Bryan Ernst, owner of Ernessi Farms.

“Envision Greater Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac County’s economic development organization, is proud to have supported the City of Ripon’s application and its subsequent approval of a CDI Grant for a Downtown Ripon Development project,” said Jim Cleveland, vice president of economic development for Envision Greater Fond du Lac. “Ernessi Farms started as an entrepreneurial venture for the owner and has since grown into a thriving business in northeast Wisconsin. By receiving this grant, the City of Ripon will be able to support a homegrown business, as they embark on an exciting expansion that will create new jobs and investment in the city.”

Ernessi Farms sells products to local and regional grocery stores and restaurants and utilizes services from several local businesses.

WEDC’s CDI Grant Program supports community development and redevelopment efforts, primarily in downtown areas. The matching grants are awarded based on the ability of applicants to demonstrate the economic impact of the proposed project, including public and private partnership development, financial need and use of sustainable downtown development practices.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, WEDC has awarded more than $30 million in CDI Grants to over 100 communities for projects expected to generate more than $500 million in capital investments statewide.