ROWAN COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — AppHarvest, which is an Ag-tech company in Rowan County, announced Tuesday that it will be expanding its educational high-tech container farm program, which launched in 2018.
Currently, the company has four of these farms in Eastern Kentucky high schools, including Breathitt High School, Shelby Valley High School, and Rowan County Senior High School. The farms are located in shipping containers where students can grow leafy greens.
According to AppHarvest, each container farm can grow up to 4,608 seedlings and 8,800 mature plants at once using 440 vertical crop columns. The containers use LED lighting and closed-loop irrigation systems.
Now, the company is building two more farms. One is set to open at Rockcastle County High School and a second school will be announced at a later date.
"We think this can be a model for the U.S.," AppHarvest founder & CEO and University of Kentucky graduate Jonathan Webb said at a press conference Tuesday. "Put technologies in high schools. Let young people grow and let them take that food home with them and put it in the cafeteria. It's a win-win-win and we're going to get it right here."
The goal is to foster interest in high-tech farming in students, eventually leading to a goal of making Appalachia the Ag-tech capital.
AppHarvest said the initiative will be supported by $250,000 in funding from financial services firm, Cowen.
The announcement was made after Gov. Andy Beshear toured the facility, which spans the equivalent of about 45 football fields, for the first time.
Beshear has expressed excitement for the future of AppHarvest, and thus, the Ag-tech industry, in Eastern Kentucky. He said he hopes that AppHarvest's presence in the region will attract other businesses.
"AppHarvest has a gravity, and when you think about Toyota, it had a gravity," Beshear said at Tuesday's press conference." It brought suppliers to it. It brought other people involved in the chain that it takes to get these tomatoes ultimately out to the grocery store, and that's exactly what we want to foster. Everything that goes into making this operation, we want to have in Kentucky."
Beshear and Webb have both said they want Eastern Kentucky to become the capital for the Ag-tech industry, bringing more growth and jobs to the heart of Appalachia.