Indoor farming company coming to Hamilton

A Cincinnati-based farming business that bills itself as “pioneering the future of food” is building in Hamilton the first fully-automated indoor farm in the United States.

80 Acres Farms, which grows fruits and vegetables in an energy-efficient, indoor environment, was created to make a difference in communities by providing affordable, fresh, local food, said company spokeswoman Rebecca Haders.

The firm will start growing tomatoes and herbs in a new Hamilton facility by early 2019, with strawberries soon to come, Haders said.

“Our farms use 97 percent less water, with no need for pesticides and no place for pests or GMOs, where produce grows three times faster, with yields 100 times larger, on a tenth of the land, 365 days a year,” Haders said.

80 Acres Farms executives will join Hamilton city officials in a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at noon Monday at 7512 Hamilton Enterprise Drive to mark the first phase of the project: a modular farm with state-of-the-art grow centers to produce specialty greens, including leafy greens, culinary herbs and kale.

That initial phase is expected to be completed later this year.

80 Acres Farms also purchased a three-story building at 319 S. Second St. in February 2017 for $200,000, according to Butler County Auditor’s Office records. Known as the Miami Motor Car Co. building, the edifice was built nearly 100 years ago and most recently was home to a furniture store.

That structure will serve a growing facility and open in early 2019. It will not be open to the public, but rather distribute produce through local grocers and restaurant distributors, Haders said.

“We’re quite excited to be a part of the revitalization in Hamilton, bringing new life into a downtown historic building and bringing the oasis of fresh produce in a community considered as a food desert,” she said.

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The agriculture start-up got its start nearly three years ago when food executives and co-founders Mike Zelkind and Tisha Livingston left their corporate careers to start their brainchild. They spent two years prior to 80 Acres’ founding speaking to hundreds of American farmers.

“Time and time again, from town to town, the farmers shared the same story,” Haders said. “Their soil was depleted from essential nutrients, weather patterns were unpredictable, sunny days were inconsistent. They knew there had to be a better way.”

So Livingston and Zelkind learned the ins and outs of a new industry — Controlled Environment Agriculture — also known as Indoor Vertical Farming.

“The demand for local food continues to climb, but supermarkets and restaurants are challenged in maintaining the consistency in supply, quality and food safety within produce,” Haders said. “Our business model offered a solution.”

With state-of-the-art technology, farmers feed the plants the ideal nutrients and precise amount of carbon dioxide, adjusting light energy, temperature, airflow and humidity to fit each plant’s needs.

“This enables the best qualities in greens, herbs, fruits and heirloom vegetables,” Haders said. “We grow produce until it’s ripe and ready, unleashing its full potential for nutrition and flavor.”

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80 Acres Farms’ Cincinnati location sells to Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield and Eastgate, Dorothy Lane Market’s three Dayton area locations, Clifton Market in Cincinnati and Whole Foods Market locations in Cincinnati, Deerfield Twp. and Dayton. It also distributes to several local restaurants.

The company plans three additional phases at the Hamilton site. When completed, the project will comprise over 150,000 square feet of fully-automated indoor farming. The full-phase expansion will allow 80 Acres Farms to provide more product to serve its existing customers and new ones with just-picked, year-round produce.

Produce grown at the Hamilton site will supply Whole Foods Markets, Dorothy Lane Markets, Jungle Jims, U.S. Foods, and other retailers and food service distributors.

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“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,” said Zelkind, 80 Acres Farms’ CEO. “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,” he said.

80 Acres Farms personnel will manage the Hamilton facility, which will feature robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and around-the-clock monitoring sensors and control systems to optimize every aspect of growing produce indoors.

Hamilton officials said they worked closely with the company for the past year on the site selection.

“The City of Hamilton is very excited about the expansion of 80 Acres in our community,” said Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith. “This is a first-in-class company, whose innovations will improve access of fresh foods to areas that need them the most.”

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