Controlled environment farming company AppHarvest announced this week it has completed the first-ever harvest of its Morehead, Kentucky-based flagship indoor farm. The Beefsteak tomatoes harvested from the 60-acre farm will ship to grocery stores this week.
The Morehead, Kentucky indoor farm clocks in at about 2.76 million square feet, and AppHarvest says the facility is expected to produce about 45 million pounds of tomatoes annually. The farm uses a mix of sensors, LEDs, and other technologies to grow tomatoes inside a completely controlled environment. Unique among controlled ag operations, AppHarvest also runs almost entirely off rainwater, an element that Eastern Kentucky has in abundance.
In addition to the Morehead facility, the company is also finishing construction on two more Kentucky farms: another 60-acre farm outside of Richmond and a 15-acre one for growing leafy greens in Berea. AppHarvest said in a statement that it plans to construct more facilities across Kentucky and Central Appalachia, with the intent to be running 12 farms by 2025.
The focus on Appalachia is a crucial part of AppHarvest’s expansion strategy as it builds out its high-tech greenhouses. Thanks to the continued decline of the coal mining industry, the region’s economy has been hit hard, to put it lightly. AppHarvest’s growing presence in Appalachia has already created jobs and livelihoods for residents of surrounding communities. “What we’re able to do here and how quickly we’re able to move and how much communities want us to be here on the ground, you can’t put that in a pitch deck or capture it in financial means,” AppHarvest’s founder and CEO, Jonathan Webb, told me last year.
The Morehead facility is also within a day’s driving distance of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which means AppHarvest’s tomatoes, and whatever else the company plans to grow in future, will reach an extremely wide audience.
To start, the newly harvested Beefsteak tomatoes will be available at select locations of national grocery chains like Kroger, Publix, Walmart, Food City, and Meijer. Tomatoes will be available in the produce section of these stores, cobranded with produce company Sunset Grown. AppHarvest said the tomatoes would be “comparable in price to standard tomatoes.”
The milestone comes just as AppHarvest, which raised $28 million in August 2020, plans to go public via a merger with a SPAC called Novus Capital Corp.