Cincinnati company addresses environmental issues with vertical farm
Walk into 80 Acres Farms in Cincinnati and you might think you made a wrong turn: the bright pink space lit with LED lights looks like the set of a futuristic film, not the epicenter of transformative farming practices. In fact, it looks very different from the rolling fields of Ohio, which was named one of the top ten farming states in the U.S. in 2017 and has long been a stronghold of agricultural production. Despite this fact, much of the food we consume comes to us via truck, losing freshness and nutritional value along the way. Instead of heading outside to look for a solution, 80 Acres has brought the crops indoors to address common issues of sustainability and accessibility head on.
“Calories are cheap. Nutrition is expensive,” said CEO Mike Zelkind. “Most of the food we eat in Ohio, like leafy greens, comes out of California, which is detrimental from an environmental and a quality perspective. So, at 80 Acres, we’re working to provide healthier, more nutrient-rich and flavorful produce through vertical farming.”
Growing inside and up? You heard him right. Using special LED lights, 80 Acres has the ability to grow year-round, organic food right in downtown Cincinnati. The company’s approach to farming is multifold: not only are they interested in high-quality food packed with nutrients, they’re also vying for a more sustainable future. This means the farm does not depend upon outsourcing or pesticides and instead focuses on preserving the environment and fostering community engagement.
“We grow completely indoors, in urban areas and food deserts where we hire local folks to grow food for their communities,” said Rebecca Haders, vice president of creative and marketing. “We’re bringing food back into the places that people are living while cutting down on food waste. When we plant a seed, it germinates, and then we grow and package it on-site before getting it to the retailer or distributor within a day. That’s the shelf life you now get in your fridge as opposed to on a truck.”
Food distribution is especially important for those who live in urban environments where farms and rural areas are far away. The convenient location of 80 Acres provides access to fresh food that is seeded in the community. Adults from the area are employed by the organization and kids can scope out the entire process on school field trips. As an industry leader in vertical farming, 80 Acres even works with the agriculture programs at several universities like The Ohio State University and Michigan State University to provide additional education and opportunities.
“We’re hiring individuals that have many different backgrounds,” said Haders. “Sometimes, people living in cities aren’t thinking they can be a farmer, and then they come here and see the entire growing process. There are kids, and even adults, that come here and have never had a raw tomato — we’re excited to connect people with their food.”
As members of Cintrifuse, a partner of Ohio Third Frontier, 80 Acres knows a thing or two about establishing connections. The farm has used their support to flourish in the community and is using their incubator as a space to scale and grow.
“We think of Cincinnati as the smallest big town in America,” said Zelkind. “You get a chance to know everybody and try out your business concept, so you can go through normal stages of failure before you reach success. For us, we knew that vertical farming was going to lead to resilience in cities by offering food security. And with the help of community partnerships, we know that the future of indoor farming is phenomenal. People are going to look around and ask how we ever lived without it.”