AppHarvest opens indoor salad greens farm with touchless growing system
Sustainable food company AppHarvest Inc. has opened its Berea, Kentucky, 15-acre high-tech indoor salad greens farm featuring a touchless growing system with autonomous harvesting.
The company also announced a $30 million loan from marketing partner Mastronardi Produce secured by the AppHarvest Berea farm. The secured financing is being delivered in two tranches of $15 million each.
At 15-acres, the AppHarvest Berea farm is expected to be the world’s largest high-tech indoor farm for autonomously harvested salad greens with a cutting-edge touchless growing system. The hands-off system is automated from pre-seeding to packaging including onsite washing to help improve both food safety and efficiency for the “Queen of Greens” washed-and-ready-to-eat salad packs. The farm is designed to grow about 35 million lettuce plants at a time, which go from seed to maturity in about three to four weeks depending on variety.
The AppHarvest Berea controlled environment agriculture (CEA) facility is opening on a phased approach, beginning with five acres then bringing on additional productive acreage over time. AppHarvest began first commercial shipments of salad greens earlier this month.
“Our top customers increasingly request CEA-grown produce for its reliable quantity and consistent quality—especially in terms of flavor, texture, color and shelf-life—and its more sustainable growing methods. This deeper relationship with AppHarvest positions us to grow together efficiently to meet increasing demand by expanding our local footprint and delivering on our long-standing ‘fresh from the farm’ commitment to customers,” said Mastronardi Produce CEO Paul Mastronardi.
“AppHarvest is deepening its relationship with Mastronardi Produce under the ‘Queen of Greens’ packaged salad brand. Securing non-dilutive sources of capital to fund our growth has been the team’s priority, and we expect this financing through Mastronardi to improve cash flow as we continue to scale operations,” said AppHarvest Founder & CEO Jonathan Webb. “Working closely with Mastronardi, the AppHarvest team has set new precedents in the CEA sector by quadrupling our number of farms in such a short time. With the Berea opening, we now have two farms shipping produce to national customers, and our 30-acre Somerset berry facility also is expected to ship in the next few weeks. We expect Morehead to start its third harvest and to start planting our 60-acre Richmond tomato farm in November.”
The AppHarvest Berea growing environment leverages sunshine and rainwater and is automated for lighting, humidity and temperature. The farm uses a closed-loop irrigation system, which enables expected water savings of up to 90% compared to open-field farming and allows for precision dosing of nutrients, resulting in far less use of fertilizer compared to open-field farming while avoiding pollution from agricultural runoff. The closed-loop system also aids in integrated pest management —using good bugs to take care of bad bugs and early detection and prevention—to avoid the use of harsh chemical pesticides. The adaptive spacing design of the troughs in the touchless growing system further minimizes any potential pest exposure.
The packaged salad market in North America was estimated to be about $5.9 billion in 2021 and growing. As traditional lettuce-producing areas in California and Arizona experience ongoing drought and other severe weather conditions wreak havoc on crop yields, AppHarvest believes its CEA approach producing more predictable yields with less water and other resources will be critical in providing fresh fruits and vegetables that are affordable.
AppHarvest is a sustainable food company, public benefit corporation and Certified B Corp building some of the world’s largest high-tech indoor farms to grow affordable, nutritious fruits and vegetables at scale while providing good jobs in Appalachia.