For the second week in a row, the City of Berea welcomed a new high-tech employer to the Berea Industrial Park, as AppHarvest announced plans to open a 15-acre, environmentally sustainable indoor greenhouse. The facility will be located next to Farristown Middle School.
In a Monday ceremony that included city, county, state and Berea College officials, AppHarvest Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb cited Berea’s unique identity and its proximity to Berea College as reasons for bringing the facility to the city.
“Why this community? Why Berea? This is one of the most special communities period in our country. Definitely in Kentucky,” Webb said.
Webb noted the facility will produce leafy green vegetables using a computerized production process that will reduce consumption of water by 90 to 95 percent. Employing a pesticide-free, closed loop irrigation system, the Berea plant can grow vegetables all year around, and is located within a day’s drive of 70 percent of the United States, thus reducing the energy needed for transport.
The Berea facility will be one of three large operations in central Kentucky, the largest being in Morehead, and the other near Speedwell in Madison County. The Madison County plant will employ approximately 300 workers, officials said. There has been no former announcement on how many will be employed at the Berea operation.
Webb noted that one effect of growing high-tech, indoor agriculture is that it will allow American consumers to be less dependent on foreign countries for produce. Webb cited farms in Mexico, which use far more pesticides than are allowed in the United States, and which employ child labor, making it difficult for American producers to compete. Operations like AppHarvest, however, can bring agriculture jobs back to Kentucky in a way that promotes environmental sustainability and makes American farming competitive.
“There’s been a lot of struggle to get to this point. Our region has a moment to lead,” Webb said. “It’s going to take universities, community colleges, and high schools to make us a lot more than a leafy green facility, but a symbol of where we can all go together,” Webb said.
Mayor Bruce Fraley addressed the audience, noting the building of the AppHarvest plant is the start of what he and others believe is Kentucky’s new era as a leader in high-tech agriculture.
“I would have never imagined that the City of Berea would become part of a revolution in agriculture that will forever improve the supply chain of fresh vegetables to the Eastern United States, but here we are,” Fraley said. “We are here today with a visionary leader of the ag-tech industry, Jonathan Webb and his team, and we are, in fact, a part or their revolutionary vision of the future of agriculture.”
Fraley continued: “I want to thank Jonathan Webb and the AppHarvest team for choosing Berea, for investing in our community, for providing jobs that will diversify our economy and improve the quality of life for Bereans for generations to come. We welcome you as a community partner and pledge our support in helping AppHarvest succeed. We are proud to be your partner and we look forward to being part of the agriculture technology revolution!”
Berea College President Lyle Roelofs addressed the crowd, noting that the new AppHarvest facility will provide opportunities not only for the college community, but for the region and the nation.
“AppHarvest comes to our state and our town, bringing an approach that can work at the scale of big agriculture, but without all of those flaws,” Roelofs said. “AppHarvest makes efficient use of water resources, operates chemical free, and locates itself so that shorter transportation to markets can be achieved. The whole region will benefit by their access to healthy, high quality produce, sustainably grown and transported.”
Congressman Andy Barr, State Representative Deanna Frazier, gubernatorial advisor Rocky Adkins, and State Senator Jared Carpenter praised the leadership of the county and the city for spurring economic development.