The construction of a 60-acre sustainable greenhouse is underway in Brown County near Morehead, Ky.
This will be the first greenhouse for AppHarvest, a high-tech agriculture company based in Kentucky. The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2020 with $82 million in funding from a venture capital firm, according to AppHarvest CEO Jonathan Webb. On June 5, Webb announced a partnership with Netherlands-based company Dalsem, which has developed nearly 1,500 high-tech greenhouses in 52 countries.
The greenhouse’s controlled-environment technology will allow AppHarvest to grow produce year-round without pesticides or genetically modified organisms, according to the company. Circular irrigation systems and a 10-acre retention pond that functions entirely off of recycled rainwater will supply water to the greenhouse. This will reduce water usage by 90 percent compared to open-field agriculture in the drier climates where much foreign, imported food is grown.
Webb has experience building large solar projects in the Southeast, and states that he hopes to integrate renewable energy into the project but that AppHarvest is still in the planning stages with its utility partners.
The company anticipates that the project will create 285 permanent jobs and 100 construction jobs.
The greenhouse will be able to grow over 45 million pounds of food per year, according to Webb. Part of AppHarvest’s goal is to decrease the country’s reliance on imported food, hence an initial focus on tomatoes, which Webb describes as one of the largest foreign produce imports.
Tomatoes will be transported to markets within a day’s drive from the greenhouse by AppHarvest’s distribution partner. Webb also plans to eventually grow cucumbers, leafy greens and vine crops. Transporting produce from the greenhouse to surrounding areas would reduce diesel use by 80 percent compared to transportation of foreign imports, according to Webb.
The project was originally set to be built on reclaimed mine land in Pikeville, Ky. — By Sam Kepple