Kentucky mega-greenhouse opens

22-10-2020    13:06   |    Lexington Herald Leader

US- AppHarvest officially opened its first high-tech greenhouse Wednesday in Morehead, a day after the company broke ground on its second greenhouse in Richmond. The 2.76-million-square-foot building in Rowan County is considered one of the world’s largest high-tech greenhouses. It will employee more than 300 Eastern Kentuckians to produce 45 million pounds of tomatoes annually.

AppHarvest opens a 60 acre greenhouse in Morehead that will provide 300+ jobs and grow organic tomatoes. BY SILAS WALKER

The first harvest of non-GMO, chemical pesticide-free produce is expected to be available in early 2021 at grocers and restaurants.

“It’s far past time for American agriculture to change,” AppHarvest Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb said. “The pandemic has revealed just how fragile our food system is, and we’re working at the forefront of changing so much that’s wrong with the status quo.”The flagship greenhouse was originally planned for Pikeville, but AppHarvest said the site, a reclaimed strip mine, was not feasible for construction. After about two years of delays, AppHarvest announced its decision to relocate to a 350-acre parcel about two miles off I-64 near the Sharkey community of Rowan County.In May 2019, the company secured a $82 million cash investment from Equilibrium Capital, allowing them to begin construction. The company also received an investment from the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, which is led by AOL co-founder Steve Case and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance. AppHarvest attracted more than $150 million in investment into the region in just over two years.The state also approved up to $1.9 million in assistance through the Economic Development Transportation Access Fund for the construction of a public access road at the Morehead facility in 2018.AppHarvest also got the attention of Martha Stewart, who is now a board member.“I believe AppHarvest’s farm will be transformational for our region,” Rowan County Judge-Executive Harry Clark said. “The investment that AppHarvest has made in this project, and is making in its workers, is admirable and shows why everyone is so excited to join the company.”Locating in Appalachia was important for AppHarvest. The facility is within a day’s drive of nearly 70% of the U.S. population, giving grocers a regionally-sourced option instead of relying on Mexican importers.Kentucky is water-rich, seeing a record rainfall in recent years, a benefit to AppHarvest since its irrigation system will only use rainwater. The facility is designed to reduce water usage by 90% compared to traditional open-field agriculture and prevent agricultural runoff.“We want Kentucky to emerge as a national leader in agritech, and this incredible high-tech greenhouse marks an important step in creating new jobs and setting up the commonwealth for a better future,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement.In a region with a high unemployment rate because of the decline of the coal industry, AppHarvest expanded its educational container farm program to Rowan County Senior High School.Morehead Mayor Laura White-Brown commended AppHarvest for uniting the community and its education systems, local high schools, Morehead State University and the Rowan County campus of Maysville Community and Technical College.“Teaching is at the core of investment when it comes to this agritech company,” she said. “I have personally witnessed how involved they are with teaching mechanisms for students. They have provided a container farm at our county high school and are allowing for the university to connect with Netherlands universities that are technologically advanced. This is just the beginning of what they are doing for our region and education.”

The newly built AppHarvest greenhouse facility in Morehead, Ky., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. The 60 acre, indoor facility is supposed to grow 45,000 pounds of tomatoes. Credit: Silas Walker SWALKER@HERALD-LEADER.COM

AppHarvest has developed relationships with AgTech universities and companies in the Netherlands, the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter behind the U.S., despite having a land mass similar to Eastern Kentucky.

On Tuesday, AppHarvest announced it started construction on its second facility in Madison County. The farm will be comparable to the Morehead facility.“This purchase brings us one step closer to our goal of establishing America’s next AgTech hub from right here in Appalachia,” Webb said.Madison County Judge-Executive Reagan Taylor said over the past two years the county and AppHarvest teams have focused on “finding economic development opportunities that capitalize on our combination of hard-working people, central location and agricultural history.”Source: Lexington Herald Leader

Photo: AppHarvest founder and CEO Jonathan Webb speaks during a press conference announcing the opening of the first greenhouse facility in Morehead, Ky., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. The 60 acre, indoor facility is supposed to grow 45,000 pounds of tomatoes. Credit: Silas Walker SWALKER@HERALD-LEADER.COM

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