AppHarvest – Improving Farming and Improving Appalachia

Jon Harper-jbh2175

Summary of Problem

            There are two problems that are being solved here. 

  1. For many years, Appalachia has struggled economically with hits to the tobacco and coal industries, and especially in the Virginia/West Virginia/Kentucky area has been exploited by the coal industry.  In order to end this area’s support for the coal industry as its biggest employer and move towards greener energy production, ethically we must also develop alternate sources of employment for the residents there.
  • Growing vegetables typically needs a warm, sunny, wet climate to maximize yields.  These places are often far from where this food is needed, in more northern latitudes.  “Across the U.S., only 19% of land is considered “best” for growing food and crops.” (CBS News, 2021)  As such, in the United States much of this produce is shipped from Central and South America.  Transporting the food has an enormous carbon footprint.

Tech Solution

            AppHarvest is a new company building enormous hydroponic greenhouses in Appalachia, with plans to expand further (AppHarvest, 2021).  Their first warehouse is the size of 58 football fields.  They have plenty of sun, and plenty of water, and avoid the toxicity of the soil by growing hydroponically.  By growing in greenhouses, they are able to grow all year round, instead of only in the summers.  By locating in Appalachia, they are within a 1 day drive of 70% of the US.  “They can grow year-round and all night thanks to special grow lights that keep the 720,000 plants inside developing. The company says farming this way uses 90% less water, no soil and results in 30 times more yield per acre than a regular outdoor farm.” (CBS News, 2021)

            AppHarvest also reduces its footprint by using recycled rainwater, so it is not drawing large amounts of water from surface or underground sources where it is located.  As such, they use 90% less water than a traditional farm would, per acre.

            They use a hybrid lighting system with sunlight as the primary source and supplementing with LEDs and sodium vapor grow lights.  They use more red light to encourage flowering in the plants, and more blue light to encourage growth.  Heat production has been considered, with more sodium vapor usage in months where heating is also necessary.

            Robotic Harvesting is possible because of the very controlled environment, and allows picking of only the ripest vegetables, with built-in feedback to continually improve the system.

            There is also a high-tech pest control system which eliminates the need for chemical pesticides.  They have pollinators in the warehouse to pollinate the flowers, and “beneficial insects” to control pest populations as well as analyzing photos of plants to detect when any pest issues arise.

            Shipping has also been optimized to reduce time from picking to shelf, reducing fuel usage for transport as well as the amount of food waste.

            In their 2020 Sustainability Report, the company details even more technological applications that are being implemented, such as “nanobubble technology”, in which they oxygenate the water being supplied to plants to increase nutrient uptake. 

Organizational Stakeholders

            AppHarvest itself, States which have portions in Appalachia such as TN, NC, KY, VA, WV, PA.  West Virginia should be a particular focus due to its extreme economic struggles and perhaps surprisingly very good access to rain, water, and interstates.

Works Cited

AppHarvest. (2021, May 12). Retrieved from https://www.appharvest.com/

CBS News. (2021, March 23). How one indoor farm is changing how food is grown — and building a new future for Appalachia. p. 2021.

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