AppHarvest aims to make eastern Kentucky America’s AgTech apex
Kentucky start-up is about to take a bite out of America’s expanding fresh tomato market.
Most of the fresh tomatoes sold in United States grocery stores are grown in other countries, with Mexico the leading source. When AppHarvest opens “the largest greenhouse in the United States” later this year in Rowan County, it will begin production of more than 45 million pounds of fresh produce annually, primarily tomatoes.
“Our region is mobilizing to become America’s AgTech capital,” says AppHarvest founder and CEO Jonathan Webb, a Kentucky native and University of Kentucky graduate. “The national and international support for our mission shows the degree of interest in working with Appalachia. We’re excited to lead agriculture forward and help our friends and neighbors create a more resilient economy.”
As construction continues, about 20 acres of the project’s 60-acre facility is already under glass. When complete, the 2.76-million-square-foot greenhouse is expected to create 285 full-time permanent jobs along with the 100 construction jobs already created.
“We are so pleased that AppHarvest is building this revolutionary project in our service area,” says Joni Hazelrigg, president and CEO of Fleming-Mason Energy. “As an electric cooperative, we are committed to improving the quality of life of our members and their communities. AppHarvest’s commitment to the people and health of eastern Kentucky is an inspiration for all of us.”
Modeled after the success of greenhouses in the Netherlands, AppHarvest’s focus on sustainable crop production includes using recycled rainwater, controlling pests and diseases with nonchemical and biological methods, and using a combination of natural sunlight and LED lighting. The facility’s location on Kentucky Route 801 near Interstate 64 places it within a day’s drive of about 70% of American consumers, versus the much longer shipping times for produce imported from other countries.
Webb’s vision is for the Morehead facility’s success to encourage other companies to create similar operations in eastern Kentucky. Just as AppHarvest’s innovative system will feed the roots of plants in the massive greenhouse year-round, the company is feeding the growth of a new industry and hope for a region that could use it.