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80 Acres Flourishes in NKY and Beyond

New indoor farming facilities in Boone County and in Georgia will boost the company's food innovation beyond this region.

by Sarah M. Mullins

Hamilton-based startup 80 Acres Farms is expanding its innovative tech-based operation to additional markets through new indoor farm facilities in Northern Kentucky and central Georgia. A $160-million round of venture capital investment last year will allow the company to grow 700 percent more food than the flagship location when the new farms open.

80 Acres grows salad greens, herbs, microgreens, and tomatoes in Hamilton and ships them to Kroger locations and other retailers like Clifton Market and Jungle Jim’s in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Its facilities use robots and artificial intelligence to provide the freshest produce possible; because crops are grown vertically indoors, they’re away from pests and soil with no need for pesticides, which yields fresh, tasty produce in a more sustainable way.

“Not even the best open-field farmer can control the weather, and with climate change, farmland loss, and resource scarcity conventional farming is only getting more difficult,” says CEO Mike Zelkind. “Our technology takes all the variability out of farming, helping us conserve resources and deliver a consistently high quality product.”

An 80 Acres indoor farm can produce up to 300 times more food than traditional practices by using renewable energy and 90 percent less water. Sustainable practices include shipping only to retail locations close to growing sites. Most produce you’ll find in the grocery store is shipped several hundred miles to its final destination; when produce travels far distances domestically or internationally, it’s not the freshest possible product.

“Our plan was always to prove out our business model close to home, showing that we can do this in a smart, scalable way,” says Zelkind. “Our Boone County location is far enough from our Hamilton headquarters that we can reach new consumers but close enough that we’ve been able to keep a close eye on the construction of the 200,000-square-foot facility.”

The new 80 Acres facility in Boone County will allow the company to improve innovations in sustainable farming, renewable energy, water consumption, and transportation [photograph by Chris Von Holle]

Zelkind says he needs to continue building new facilities to keep up with customer demand. “Both of the new farms can grow everything we grow: lettuce, herbs, fruits, and vegetables,” he says. “We know we can’t feed the world with lettuce, which is why we’ve been leading the industry in product breadth for years. We’re continuing to invest in research and development so we can offer a wider variety of healthy options.”

Zelkind says he’s also focused on attracting talent to the company in order to stay ahead in a quickly changing industry, with the new Boone County facility adding 125 jobs in the region.