Hamilton’s 80 Acres Farms isn’t slowing down its growth

Business has become one of top three nationwide in indoor farming.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

One of the country’s largest vertical farming companies is based in Hamilton, Ohio, and they have no plans of leaving the city anytime soon.

Mike Zelkind, CEO of 80 Acres Farms, said he’s “proud to call (Hamilton) home,” and is appreciative of the five-year partnership they’ve had with the city.

Founded in Cincinnati in 2015, 80 Acres was a startup indoor farming business aiming to make a name for itself. Their first farm was in a building, which they still own, near Spring Grove Cemetery. It was that farm that gave the company its name as they calculated the quarter-acre farm could grow the equivalent of 80 acres of open farmland. That formula, however, doesn’t match today with the advent of new and more efficient technology and techniques in the 80 Acres process.

As the company of 300 employees companywide approaches a decade in the business, 80 Acres is much, much larger from 2015 and one of the three largest vertical farming companies in the United States ― and Zelkind said the largest between the two coasts.

“We’ve proven not only that world-changing innovation can come from a small Midwest town, but there are real strategic advantages in being located here,” said Zelkind. “Now, when business leaders from across the world think of high-tech agriculture, they think of Hamilton, Ohio, and many have come here to visit our farms, and stay here and eat in our restaurants. It’s quite remarkable to be so fortunate to bring so many amazing leaders from around the globe here.”

And Zelkind said they’re “just beginning” as they’ve scaled dramatically as a company since they moved to Hamilton in 2019. They were in just a handful of stores and now are in thousands of stores and restaurants across the Eastern United States.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

80 Acres products are in 1,300 retail locations in 16 states, including Dorothy Lane Market, Kroger and Jungle Jim’s in Fairfield. They’re also now in every Harris Teeter, a southeastern retailer owned by Kroger.

“To meet demand,” Zelkind said, “we need to keep growing, we need to keep investing in new technology and new jobs. The opportunities ahead of us are truly enormous.”

Even in bad markets for 80 Acres, “the opportunities are tremendous” because, he said, “great companies are built in difficult times.”

80 Acres is the city’s third-largest electric consumer, and to help with 80 Acres growth, Hamilton has amended a Utility Economic Development Agreement twice in the past two years. The amending of the utility EDA incentivizes the company’s future growth.

The city and 80 Acres entered into the utility EDA in October 2018, an accord designed to encourage job growth and increased electric consumption in the city.

“There’s been a lot of disruptions and challenges in the vertical farming industry in the last 12 to 24 months,” said Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith, adding the agreement will “put them on the path for further expansion in Hamilton.”

Last year, Hamilton Council agreed to revise 80 Acres’ lease agreement at One Renaissance Center, 345 High St., which would help them expand their office operations. The company’s office headquarters is on the seventh floor of the city building, and Hamilton agreed to freeze the rent for 2024 to 2026, then extend the contract by three years, ending in 2033.

As some vertical farms are scaling back or closing ― Bowery had two rounds of layoffs just months apart and Infarm, a $500 million Berlin startup, declared insolvency in 2023 ― 80 Acres Farms is growing.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The vertical farmer opened a $95 million, 200,000-square-foot facility, its largest and most advanced farm investment, in Florence, Ky., and last year launched new grab-and-go salad kits. They also have two indoor farms in Hamilton, one on Enterprise Drive and one on South Second Street in downtown Hamilton.

But it was a meeting with Smith that started a conversation to give the vertical farming business its Hamilton home on the 7th floor at 345 High St. That tour of the Spring Grove location led to the relationship today, and 80 Acres spokesman Jed Portman said, “We are so grateful for the support that Hamilton’s given us.”

As they look toward the future, one thing Portman said 80 Acres Farms will not do is chase the next big thing in the industry. They’ll focus on what they do, and do it well, though that doesn’t mean they’re not testing new plants they hope to one day introduce, or re-introduce as it goes for their strawberries, which are back in research and development in Arkansas.

“We had set the bar high with our greens, with our tomatoes, our herbs and our microgreens. Everything that we release has to be as good as our tomatoes, and those are the best tomatoes,” Portman said. “We have done a lot in less than a decade, and we want to stay focused on what we’ve done so far and what we do now.”

Those products are leafy greens, salad blends, microgreens, basil, tomatoes and salad kits.

Research and development has experimented with everything from eggplant to hops for beer to saplings (there’s an opportunity to grow saplings for the orchard industry), and to grow starter plants in general for open-field agriculture because Portman said they’re a supplemental business to open field farming.

While new produce products won’t be coming for a while, they will have some new salad kits coming out as they have exceeded projections “by a lot.”

There will also be a new farm in Georgia in 2025, and they’re already planning for an interior expansion of the Florence farm.

“Demand is not the issue,” said Portman. “We’re doing everything we can do to keep up. The only way we can meet demand is to keep building.”

Way into the future is how Infinite Acres, a wholly owned 80 Acres Farms subsidiary run by Tisha Livingston, a co-founder of 80 Acres, will play a role in the indoor farming industry, which includes greenhouses as well as vertical farms. Infinite Acres designs and builds the company’s products and is responsible for their loop operating system, which is the software, hardware and controls platforms that their farms run on.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Portman said there will come a time when Infinite Acres, which is based in The Netherlands, could build farms or technology for paying clients, but that’s not something being done now.

The products produced by 80 Acres Farms are 99% human-free in their grow zones, and they don’t need to wash their produce because they’re “growing the cleanest produce that’s ever been grown. It’s not only that vertically farm produce is cleaner, it’s our farm, especially, that is cleaner.”

They are building multi-million-dollar farms to do something fairly simple. Seeding, germination in a dark room, replanting into the enclosed nearly human-free grow zone, where they go from germinated seeds to seedlings and then are propagated from seedling to full-size.

Then they harvest the full-size plants.

“We’re using complex technology to do something that’s fundamentally very simple. We don’t have a lot of secrets, but it’s hard to replicate,” Portman said. “We’re building $75 million, $100 million farms at this point, so it’s not easy to go out and scrape that up.”

But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for others, adding that “the industry is small enough where there’s room for all of us,” he said.

But Zelkind and Livingston know how to run a manufacturing facility. From the beginning, Portman said, “They were approaching this from a different way than your typical startup founder might. They understand the operations.”

And while the growth of 80 Acres isn’t unprecedented, from a company founded in Cincinnati to be an international company in less than a decade from a tech perspective, “it’s unusual,” he said.


One thing 80 Acres Farms touts is the length of time its produce lasts. The three reasons:

Cutting down on shipping time: Their supply chain is much shorter as its process of seeding to shipping is in one building. Products are to their destination in 48 hours or less.

Temperature control: They have determined 38 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature to not only chill recently harvested produce, but it’s packaged and stored at 38 degrees. Then, if the grocery stores do their jobs, the longest time it’s outside a refrigerated environment is from the drive home after purchase.

Water: Moisture is the enemy of freshness and moisture leads to rot. They don’t wash their produce, which they do not have to since it’s grown in a 99% human-free environment, and not using water once it’s been harvested, does help the produce last a little longer.

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