Only 60% of the food grown in the United States makes it onto consumers' plates. Some of it rots in the field, some perishable produce ends up going bad in transit, and some expires on the shelves. 80 Acres Farms, a vertical farming startup based in Cincinnati, only ships its produce within 50 to 100 miles of its farms: you cannot buy their salad blends in L.A. or in Boston, nor can you get their tomatoes in Austin or Miami. Earlier this year, the startup partnered with U.S. retail giant Kroger (also based in Cincinnati). Their greens and produce are now available in more than 300 Kroger supermarkets in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. It may seem counterintuitive for a business to restrict its sales to a specific region, but 80 Acres Farms is betting that locally grown, locally distributed food can help eliminate food waste across the country, if only it can build enough farms to meet growing demands.
Tisha Livingston and Mike Zelkind started 80 Acres Farms in 2015, with a single vertical farm in a small facility outside Cincinnati that could produce 80 acres’ worth of fruits and vegetables. Since then, the company has grown to eight farms, most of them in Ohio.
This year, 80 Acres opened its largest farm to date. Stretching across 70,000 square feet in Cincinnati, it can grow 10 million servings of produce per year, increasing the company’s output by more than 5 times. This summer, the company also secured $160 million in funding, which the founders will use to diversify its crops and build more farms. “A farm by itself doesn’t do any good,” says Mike Zelkind, the company’s CEO, suggesting that it would take a network of farms to make an actual difference.
For now, 80 Acres Farms only services its immediate region. “We scale hyper-locally,” says Zelkind. For a few months at the start of the pandemic, 80 Acres Farms installed a pop-up tomato farm outside the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan (as a supplement to a pandemic-shuttered exhibition dedicated to the countryside). Growing in a pink-lit shipping container on the plaza, about 3,000 tomatoes were harvested every Wednesday and donated to New York City’s largest food rescue organization, City Harvest.
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