Hamilton facility to be first of its kind in North America


By Eric Schwartzberg - Dayton Daily News (TNS)



HAMILTON — A private investment will enable an indoor farming company to complete its previously announced Hamilton facility, which it says will be the first fully automated indoor farm in North America.

The company 80 Acres Farms received “significant investment” from San Francisco-based private equity firm Virgo Investment Group, which invests in companies transforming and disrupting high-potential industries.

Terms of the financing were not disclosed.

Founded in Cincinnati in 2015 by veteran food industry executives Mike Zelkind and Tisha Livingston, 80 Acres Farms is supported by a board of directors representing executive and leadership experience at leading food, healthcare, and other companies.

80 Acres Farms provides customers with a variety of locally grown, just-picked leafy greens, microgreens and vine crops, including the world’s only tomatoes and cucumbers grown completely indoors using solely LED lighting.

The company has developed its own artificial intelligence-powered growing system, sophisticated data monitoring, and automation technologies to deliver high quality and nutritious products at an affordable price.

By locating its indoor farms close to customers, 80 Acres Farms is able to eliminate the costs, time and environmental impact of cross-country transportation, providing customers with a fresher, longer lasting product while drastically reducing food waste, company officials said.

80 Acres distributes to major national grocers, local retailers, restaurants, and food service companies from its facilities in Ohio, Arkansas, North Carolina and Alabama.

“Virgo Investment Group joins our existing notable and experienced food industry investors in supporting the Company to rapidly commercialize the indoor vertical farming technology we have developed over the past three years,” said Mike Zelkind, co-founder and chief executive officer of 80 Acres Farms. “We are optimizing every aspect of our production processes and driving down costs, which is crucial to scaling an indoor farming business like ours.”

The first phase of the Hamilton project under construction at 7512 Hamilton Enterprise Drive is expected to be operational early this year. It will be automated from seeding to growing to harvesting to produce specialty greens, including leafy greens, culinary herbs and kale.

The Hamilton facility will feature handling robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and around-the-clock monitoring sensors and control systems to optimize every aspect of growing produce indoors.

It will allow 80 Acres Farms to start to service what it said is a “substantial and growing demand” for fresh, locally grown produce year-round from both retailers and restaurants.

“Over the past three years we have provided our customers with fresh, flavorful and nutritious produce grown locally in our facilities with no pesticides and highly efficient usage of water and nutrients,” Zelkind said. “We are rapidly increasing yields for our produce, while advancing each generation of our grow zone designs to lower capital costs, production costs and reduce the use of natural resources.

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.

Zelkind said 80 Acres Farms’ facilities represent “the realization of the next generation of farming.”

“Our vision is to prove that indoor farming can be fully-automated, commercially scalable, higher-yielding, and profitable,” he said.

Eli Aheto, partner of Virgo Investment Group, said the firm is excited to partner with 80 acres to bring freshly picked produce to local markets year round.

“80 Acres Farms has created a unique and automated growing process and has built great relationships with its retail customers,” Aheto said. “We want to help accelerate the company’s growth in this multi-billion-dollar market.

The 80 Acres investment is an expression of Virgo’s longstanding focus on investing in energy efficiency opportunities driven by reduced equipment costs, he said. Virgo has completed investments in utility-scale wind, community solar, electric vehicle charging and now an LED lighting driven business.

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By Eric Schwartzberg

Dayton Daily News (TNS)

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