America is about to get its first fully automated indoor farm. This one-of-a-kind site will use robotics and artificial intelligence to grow fresh produce for supermarkets across the United States, including national chains like Whole Foods.
The farm is underway in Hamilton, Ohio — a city just 20 miles away from Cincinnati, where the company behind this innovative project is based. 80 Acre Farms has been on the vertical indoor farming scene since 2015, but this expansion will mark a dramatic increase in production.
The new farm will span over 150,000 square feet, or roughly 3.4 acres, and grow crops ranging from microgreens to kale. Once construction is complete, 80 Acres Farms will supply Whole Foods, Jungle Jims, U.S. Foods, Dorothy Lane Markets, and other food sellers and distributors with veggies year-round.
"We already have demonstrated that we can provide to our customers the freshest, best-tasting and nutritious locally-grown produce, while using renewable energy, very little water, and no pesticides," Mike Zelkind, co-founder and CEO of 80 Acres Farms, said in a press release.
"With the Hamilton facility we will achieve the next-generation of indoor vertical farming using best of breed technology. This project will deliver our proof of concept that indoor farming can be fully-automated, commercially scalable, higher-yielding, and profitable.
"It will serve as a prototype for our ambitious plans to co-locate similar facilities with commercial customers in other parts of the country."
80 Acres Farms uses a hydroponic system that nourishes plants with minimal resources. Hydroponic farming typically requires no soil, no pesticides, and much less water than traditional growing methods, making it the technique of choice among many sustainable food makers.
Indoor farms also allow for better temperature control. With four walls and a roof, growers can keep the environment as warm, cool, or mild as they like — meaning no crop is ever out of season.
They’re also not an energy drain. Thanks to efficient LED lights that nurture the plants’ growth, 80 Acres can manage its power needs. That efficiency extends to the day-to-day operations, which will be bolstered by artificial intelligence, data analysis, robotics, monitors, and control systems.
Despite the robot assistance, the farm will create 40 jobs with an average $40,000 to $50,000 salary — plus benefits.
"Hamilton thanks 80 Acres Farms for its investment in our city," Pat Moeller, the mayor of Hamilton, said in the release.
"80 Acres' high-tech indoor farm efficiently grows fresh produce that will continue to be sold locally. I have had the opportunity to purchase 80 Acres produce and really enjoyed the fresh, flavorful taste."
According to CNBC, the farm’s projected cost is somewhere between $10 and $15 million. Hamilton officials and 80 Acres Farms expect the first phase of the project to wrap by the end of this year, with three additional phases to follow after that.
It’s unclear when the new farm will be open and ready for business, but once it is, it could have a significant impact on the way the U.S. grows and sells food.