This Old House Would Look Better Alive Inside

A Providence restaurant owner would like to see this vacant building at the corner of Almy and Meader streets turned into a vertical farm. An urban farmer is already growing food outside the former Head Start school. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

A Providence restaurant owner would like to see this vacant building at the corner of Almy and Meader streets turned into a vertical farm. An urban farmer is already growing food outside the former Head Start school. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

Restaurateur would like to see the building transformed into a vertical farm

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Julian Forgue’s life, at least his professional one, revolves around food. He owns the popular restaurant Julians on Broadway, just opened Pizza J a street over on Westminster, operates a catering business and has a food bus. The foodie would like to add a vertical garden/indoor farming operation to his food pyramid.

The longtime restaurateur even has a piece of property in mind: the former Head Start school on Almy Street, at the corner of Meader Street.

The derelict three-story building has been wasting away for years, but thanks to the vision of city officials and ambitious urban farmers the pavement surrounding the 90,000-square foot property has been growing food for the past three years. Forgue would like to do the same inside.

“We need to challenge the status quo and create a different paradigm,” he said. “It’s time to multiply what has been done with urban farming in Providence.”

Forgue said he has been intrigued by the idea of vertical farming for about a decade. His interest was rekindled recently after reading about Boston Greens and its plans for indoor growing in West Kingston.

Providence has a large collection of unused or underused properties, and Forgue found one conveniently located between his two restaurants. He believes the site would be good for solar, has potential for geothermal and the building’s basement could be ideal for growing mushrooms. He also likes the fact the property is already growing food — thanks to the efforts of urban farmer and ecoRI Earth food-scrap collection driver Anders Newkirk — and is supported by the city’s Lots of Hope program.

Forgue has had very preliminary discussions with a city official who didn’t shoot down the idea. That’s a start.

“It’s not necessarily about making money, but drawing action around growing more local food in inner-city neighborhoods,” Forgue said. “It’s about the action of proof and showing projects like this can be done. There’s energy out there for this. We can’t just keep opening up restaurants and bars.”

Editor's note: Julians sponsors the ecoRI Earth food-scrap program.