Something Fishy in Windham
The proposed lettuce factory and greenhouse aquaculture industrial complex being discussed for Windham smelled bad to me from the very start. As someone with a fundamental understanding of how food is produced, both on farms and at sea, I'm always wary of anyone who proposes an easy-to-maintain, perpetual food machine. I'm skeptical because growing food requires either lots of chemicals and poisons (the agri-business model) or countless hours of hard, labor-intensive work by humans and animals working together in conjunction with nature. So when the follow-up story to the Windham proposal appeared in the Press Herald, I read it carefully, to see if I could learn anything that would lessen my skepticism. Then I spent 14 minutes on Google and discovered that the company behind the company proposing this mammoth project is... nothing. A digital shell company with no apparent real world experience. The mumbo jumbo is here. A shell company that is, according to the PPH, on the "fast track" for approval, with help from local and state officials.
One of the most basic guiding principles of journalism is to follow the cash. Who benefits from this proposal? Well, according to the PPH piece, the man behind the curtain is Richard Newbold, the managing principal of BioSYn, who said the company isn't ready to talk publicly about the Windham project. "For us, it's a little premature" he told the reporter. I'd agree, since besides the website, the company -- and their global partners -- don't seem to have done anything. Besides this: some sort of patent application for his combo plan of growing lettuce and fish.
If I was one of the local investors that the backers are seeking, I'd be cautious. Especially after looking at this cryptic Facebook page created on March 15, 2011. Mentions something called a pump and dump in relation to Mr. Newbold. That's conman-speak for coming into a little burg or hamlet and pitching a proposal that's gonna save the town and bring jobs and make the place sparkle and shine. I've witnessed this song-and-dance so many times now, especially all the way Down East in desperate Washington County. Once the money or glory appears, the shyster hits the road, with fat wallet and/or an inflated ego.
But even if there was a legit company behind the proposal, I'd still be against this project for a gazilion reasons. Like what are the plans for all the fish feces? What sort of demand and impact would a giant hydroponic operation have on the local water supply? And do consumers realize that leafy greens are on the list of foods that should be eating organically, especially by children. And hydroponic foods aren't organic. I could go on and on. But that's not my job. I'm supposed to be finishing up my new book about Maine's marijuana-economy.
There's a lesson to be learned by this escapade. Perhaps town officials and economic development folks should do a little more research -- LET'S SAY 14 MINUTES WORTH -- before getting gung ho and hopeful when some out-state suiter with a local yokel as a pimp comes a-calling for a marriage. Cuz all he wants is your money.
And perhaps reporters should be given a mandatory lesson in how to use search engines before printing puff pieces.
By my estimations, this proposal will eventually implode. These sorts of gambits always do. The question, however, is whether it falls apart before or after the locals and the state waste time and money on the idea of raising lettuce-eating fish. And get everyone hopeful for jobs other than Wal-Mart and chain restaurants.
But the story did give me an idea. If the state and locals are serious about getting behind a 100-million agricultural project, give me the money. I'll develop a network of organic farmers, grocers and consumers, with the goal of producing 50 percent of Maine's food by the year 2020. For everyone. The elderly. The poor. The rich. The hipsters. The hippies. The sick. The imprisoned. The hungry. And the middle class. While creating at least a thousand jobs, 5 times more than the lettuce factory promised. And safely. Without poisons or salmonella or a dramatic carbon trucking-print.
But first I gotta get the marijuana book done. Because as we all know, marijuana -- for medicine and cannabis tourism -- and industrial hemp -- for paper, fabric and fuel -- is the real way to save Maine's economy.