Nancy Hatfield was working the night shift as an assistant manager at a 24-hour Shell gas station in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, when she learned that the new indoor farm—just 20 minutes away in Morehead—was hiring. Now, Hatfield spends evenings with her family and days helping take meticulous care of hundreds of thousands of tomato plants. She started working for AppHarvest—a company she says many in the community had their eyes on—shortly after it went into production in March 2021, right before the first harvest of hydroponic tomatoes.
And while it’s one of a handful of high-tech indoor farming operations that have garnered glowing media attention and massive venture capital investments in recent years, the majority of the others have built locations in urban areas first and then begun to add more rural, less coastal locations. Take Aerofarms’ indoor warehouse operation in Danville, Virginia (population 42,000), or Bright Farms in Wilmington, Ohio (population 12,000), for example.
AppHarvest, on the other hand, has been rooted to rural Kentucky from the start. CEO and founder Jonathan Webb grew up in the state and returned a few years ago after working in renewable energy development in New York and Washington, D.C., including a stint with the Department of Defense. He says he turned to the burgeoning world of indoor agriculture as a solution to climate change and an alternative to conventional farming, or what he calls “dirty agriculture.”
He points to three reasons he has chosen Appalachian region: As one of the wettest states in the U.S., it has abundant rainwater that the company hopes can make it resilient in the face of climate change; it’s located a day’s drive from nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population; and it’s a place where people are hungry for jobs.
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