North America’s Largest Greenhouse?
An ambitious partnership between the state of Kentucky, the Dutch government, and startup AppHarvest aims to grow an agricultural technology hub in the heart of Appalachia. Several universities and private companies have also signed on to the project that envisions a long-term partnership that will add jobs and create a new signature industry for a region of the country that has been slammed by the collapse of coal.
AppHarvest is currently building what could be North America’s largest greenhouse in Rowan County, Kentucky, just outside Moorehead. The $97 million project plans to produce 45 million pounds of tomatoes annually to distribute to East Coast grocers. It is projected to have produce on the shelf by the end of the year. As AppHarvest founder Jonathan Webb explains, Mexico now grows more than half the fresh tomatoes sold in the U.S. Appharvest aims to displace a chunk of that – as well as other produce imports – by building more greenhouses under an ecosystem closely resembling what’s used in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands ‘ sustainable food supply chain is built on a network of more than 10,000 high-tech greenhouses. The nation is about a third of the landmass of Kentucky but is the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter. Dutch farms now grow up to 30 times more fruits and vegetables on a single acre indoors compared to one acre outdoors, while slashing water usage by 90%.
The new AppHarvest greenhouse is also expected to create 285 jobs, a number the company hopes will grow even more with the new partnership. The agreement will also create a series of research programs as well as a “center of excellence” for agtech innovation. The state of Kentucky has also committed to open a Dutch representative office in Kentucky to attract investment to the state by Dutch companies. It’s hoped the partnership will also spark collaboration between companies, as well as the universities involved. Those include two Dutch-based institutions and five Kentucky schools – Morehead State University, Berea College and Eastern Kentucky University, University of Kentucky, and University of Pikeville.
Interestingly, a portion of the $120 million in venture capital funding AppHarvest has raised comes from AOL co-founder Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest” fund. That fund is focusing on technology and companies in middle America, which Case has argued are too often passed over in favor of Silicon Valley and East Coast tech hubs. I continue to find what is happening with indoor agriculture very interesting. (Sources: Courier Journal, The Spoon, Lexington Herald)