HAMILTON, Ohio — Now that 80 Acres has officially opened its enormous $30-million-plus indoor farming complex that will be the model for similar state-of-the-art operations around the country and world, visitors from world governments can visit Hamilton to tour it.
“It’s what we’re calling the ‘reference design,’” 80 Acres CEO and co-founder Mike Zelkind said at Wednesday’s grand opening celebration. “This is the facility that is proven to operate effectively and efficiently, that we will start copying and pasting at other locations. It’s the first one of its kind.”
“Next week we have already quite a few tours,” Zelkind told the Journal-News after a grand opening celebration that was watched by company partners in this country and other continents, featuring recorded remarks from Gov. Mike DeWine.
Elsewhere in the complex, in a “growing box” that contains 64,000 square feet of cultivating space, plants were surrounded by a purple light, where a self-contained water system recycles 97 percent of the water, if not better.
The facility, which is located at Hamilton’s Enterprise Park, can grow at least 10 million servings of food of leafy greens per year, “and obviously, if we grow some heavier products, we can grow a lot more,” Zelkind said.
For comparison, a football field is 57,600 square feet. But in this complex, that space is broken into 10 growing levels, stacked atop each other.
Company officials compared the complex to the first commercially viable automobile: It wasn’t the first time somebody put a motor on a four-wheeled vehicle, but after a lot of hard work and refinements, there was a car that could be sold.
Pests are not a problem because cameras inside the complex detect tiny spots on plants before human eyes can. When the spots appear, those plants are removed.
“People in the industry who know realize this is an incredible facility, it is one of a kind, and they’re coming to coming to visit,” Zelkind said. “We have a pretty dance card. COVID is slowing it down a little bit, but it’s filling up, as soon as the vaccine allows, and travel restrictions ease a bit.”
Tisha Livingston, the president and cofounder of Hamilton-based 80 Acres and CEO of its Europe-based Infinite Acres, said a variety of officials are interested in the Hamilton facility.
“We have governments that are interested in shoring up their food supply, and that are looking to invest their sovereign wealth into technology that will provide healthy food and jobs, and infrastructure,” she said. “We have retailers from all over the world.”
People from Jungle Jim’s International Market, including founder and CEO “Jungle” Jim Bonaminio, were impressed by a half-hour tour.
“Freight’s five times what it used to be,” Bonaminio said. “Freight cost more than the product. So then you’ve got the labor, and now, boom: They come up with this. Forget about bringing it in from California, we’ll grow it right here. It’s healthier, it’s nutritional.”
The 80 Acres complex can offer job opportunities for local people who want to learn about this form of factory farming, and perhaps help launch similar farms across the country.
The growers use algorithms they have created, variations in light they provide the plants and factory-sized things like 35,000-gallon water-supply tanks to tend the plants. They produce plants that can be more fragile and tasty than the ones shipped many days from places like California.
Asked to predict how many facilities there may be a few years from now, Zelkind said: “In five years? Twenty, 30, 50. A lot.”
“This is going to change the world,” predicted Phill Adams, director of development for Jungle Jim’s. “They’re going to be wanted everywhere, because you no longer have to worry about weather, temperature, bugs.”
“What we are here to celebrate today is an automated farm that can grow a variety of fruits and vegetables — not just leafy greens and lettuces — but soon, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, and berries, in the same system, year-round, without any pesticides, using 97 percent less water,” Zelkind said.
That automation and growing abilities are largely because of patented technologies from Infinite Acres and other partners.
“What you’re seeing here today is a new standard being set for food quality, way beyond the organic, which was the best until today, Zelkind said. “A farm that smartly removes much of the back-breaking labor through innovation, creates high-quality jobs, a farm that is designed for food-safety and quality, a farm that is built to keep workers safe and customers healthy.”
“Ohio is showing the world what future farms can look like,” DeWine said.
Mayor Pat Moeller said “the future visited Hamilton, Ohio, a couple years ago when 80 Acres came to town. And the future has now put down even more roots, and Hamilton is very, very grateful.”
The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO.com.