California Company Announces It Will Build World’s Largest Vertical Farm in Virginia | State and Area News
Based in California Plenty Unlimited Inc. will build a vertical farm at Chesterfield County’s Meadowville Technology Park that is expected to create 300 jobs.
The company said it expects the facility to be the largest indoor vertical agricultural campus in the world. A vertical farm grows produce indoors on towers.
It represents an investment of 300 million dollars.
The company will complete the Chesterfield facility in phases over the next six years, with the first truss to be completed in the winter of 2023-2024.
It will grow Driscoll’s brand strawberries, producing 4 million pounds a year, on 30-foot-tall towers made of rigid, square plastic cylinders. The towers are pierced with 1 inch by 1 inch angled slots for the strawberry plants, with inner tubes providing water and nutrients.
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Eventually, the company expects to harvest 20 million pounds a year of various produce in Chesterfield, including leafy greens, such as spinach and arugula that it currently grows at its small California facilities, the chief executive said. Arama Kukutai. He said the company was also eyeing tomatoes.
“Our people in California are jealous that we’re going to throw strawberries in Virginia,” Kukutai said.
Kukutai, who grew up on a New Zealand dairy farm, said raising produce on the towers allows for continuous harvesting, instead of the traditional seasonal harvest. He plans to ship the first berries from Chesterfield in the winter of 2023-2024, shortly after the first farm building is completed.
Local, state and company officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for AeroFarms’ new state-of-the-art 138,670-square-foot facility Monday afternoon.
Because they are grown indoors and on a medium of old coconut husks, neither pests nor soil bacteria are a problem.
And company workers can pick the berries as they’re ripe — none of those sour, white-tipped people when farmers have to pick an entire field at once, he said.
“What Plenty represents is.. the combination of Virginia’s agricultural heritage, it’s our largest industry, with Virginia’s leadership position in technology and, by the way, the spirit of enterprise that we are so proud of,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The state is supporting the project with a $2.4 million grant from the Commonwealth Opportunity Fund and a $500,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. In addition, the company can see the benefits of the Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone grant program and the Large Facilities Tax Credit program tied to new jobs being created.
Youngkin said state officials have tailored an incentive package that ties public support to actual investment and company hiring.
Kukutai said the Richmond area has the skilled labor and nearby colleges the company will need to find the technicians and plant scientists to operate the robotic planting equipment as well as the lighting, ventilation and nutritious foods, as well as to ensure produce is picked when ripe and ready to ship.
“When can you pick them when they’re ripe and they’ll be on the shelves the next day,” Kukutai said.
The site is within a day’s drive of 100 million customers, including some of the country’s biggest berry consumers, he said.
One, in fact, is Youngkin, who told Kukutai that his family is probably the biggest collection of strawberry eaters per capita.