Cincinnati firm plans robotic indoor farm to supply Whole Foods, Jungle Jim's

Barrett J. Brunsman
Cincinnati-based 80 Acres Farms.
Source: 80 Acres Farms

Cincinnati-based 80 Acres Farms revealed Friday that it plans to build a large, fully automated indoor farm in Hamilton, which will produce specialty greens to supply Fairfield-based Jungle Jim's International Market, Dayton-based Dorothy Lane Markets and national heavyweights such as Whole Foods and U.S. Foods.

The facility would be the first of its kind in the nation, according to 80 Acres. A groundbreaking is to be held Sept. 24 at 7512 Hamilton Enterprise Drive in the southeast part of the Butler County city. Another facility will be at 319 Second St.

The project would cost between $10 million and $15 million initially, according to Hamilton officials. Forty jobs would be created, which would average in the $40,000 to $50,000 range including benefits.

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The city discounted land in Hamilton Enterprise park for the project and is providing an Enterprise Zone property tax abatement of 75 percent for 10 years.

80 Acres Farms personnel will manage the facilities, which will feature robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics and around-the-clock monitoring sensors and control systems to optimize every aspect of growing produce indoors.

The initial phase, which is to be completed later this year, will feature grow centers to produce microgreens, culinary herbs, leafy greens and kale.

Three additional phases are planned. When completed, the indoor farm is to encompass more than 150,000 square feet, which equates to nearly 3.5 acres.

The full-phase expansion of what's known as controlled environmental agriculture will enable 80 Acres Farms to provide more product to serve existing customers and new ones with fresh-picked, year-round produce.

80 Acres Farms now serves Cincinnati-area customers from its facility in Spring Grove, where it grows micro-greens, culinary herbs, leafy lettuce, kale and vine crops such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

"We already have demonstrated that we can provide to our customers the freshest, best-tasting and nutritious locally grown produce, while using renewable energy, very little water, and no pesticides," said Mike Zelkind, CEO and co-founder of 80 Acres Farms.

"With the Hamilton facility, we will achieve the next-generation of indoor vertical farming," Zelkind said. "This project will deliver our proof of concept that indoor farming can be fully automated, commercially scalable, higher-yielding, and profitable.

"It will serve as a prototype for our ambitious plans to co-locate similar facilities with commercial customers in other parts of the country," added Zelkind, former CEO of Sager Creek Vegetable Co. and before that an executive with AdvancePierre Foods.

Zelkind said 80 Acres Farms will work with partners such as JDL Warm Construction and Open Architecture Inc., both of downtown Cincinnati. Site Solutions Consulting of Loveland will do excavation site preparation work.

The Cincinnati firm also will be working with its current technology partners Signify and Priva, said Tisha Livingston, president and co-founder of 80 Acres. Signify is a New Jersey firm that supplies 80 Acres with LED horticultural lighting systems. Priva is a Dutch company that provides environmental control systems and process management software.