The world’s largest aeroponic smart farm is officially open in Cane Creek Centre industrial park.
Local, state and company officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for AeroFarms’ new 138,670-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility Monday afternoon.
The company plans to have 48 plant-growing towers four-and-half stories high, with the operation entailing the equivalent of a 1,000-acre farm, company officials said during a tour of the facility at Cane Creek Centre Industrial Park off South Boston Road in March.
Leafy greens that will be grown aeroponically inside the building include micro arugula, micro wasabi mustard, micro kale and other vegetables.
“It’s not just about growing a plant, but creating a business,” AeroFarms CEO and co-founder David Rosenberg said during the ceremony Monday.
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The vertical-farming facility began production in August and has hired about 80 employees from Danville and the surrounding area. All of the promised 158 workers will be hired by the end of the year, Chief Marking Officer Marc Oshima told the Danville Register & Bee after the ceremony.
AeroFarms initially promised 92 jobs during an announcement in December 2019, but announced in July that it would be expanding and adding 66 more jobs at its Ringgold facility. The manufacturing plant is the world’s largest indoor vertical farm of its kind. Virginia successfully competed against other states for the project.
“We’re really excited by what we’ve done,” Rosenberg said. “It’s nothing short of game-changing.”
The community has accepted AeroFarms with open arms “and we accept them, we embrace them, and we’re so thankful, the quality of people we have. They’re hard-working,” Rosenberg said.
“It’s going to be the start of a very long relationship with the city of Danville, the county, the state and the neighboring areas,” he said.
Groundbreaking on the facility was held in April 2021.The expansion announced in July was being driven by the company’s decision to grow production to meet increased customer demand.
U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-5th District, said he has visited a lot of farms in the state, including horse farms, cattle farms, hog farms and others, but not one like AeroFarms.
“I have never been to a farm like this because a farm like this does not exist any place else in the world,” Good bragged.
The company was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in Newark, New Jersey.
Plant manager Anthony Smith, who has more than 37 years experience in manufacturing, said, “I’m just so excited to be managing the world’s largest aeroponic smart farm.”
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr said, “Rural Virginia is the heart of what makes this commonwealth so great.”
With 158 jobs and about 138,000 square feet of indoor growing capacity, AeroFarms is good for the region and for the commonwealth, Lohr said.
“We certainly welcome you here,” Lohr said.
The new AeroFarms indoor vertical farm in Virginia will distribute primarily to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast markets with the ability to reach about 50 million people located within a day’s drive and more than 1,000 retailers, according to the governor’s office. The distribution will build on AeroFarms’ existing relationships with retailers such as Ahold Delhaize, Amazon Fresh, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, Weee!, Walmart and Whole Foods Market.
AeroFarms plans to produce tens of billions of leafy green vegetable plants per year at its facility.
Within the four-and-a-half-story growing area, each section in the system will have its own micro-climate determining which plant will grow where.
Products grown at the facility will be sold at major retailers including Food Lion, Walmart and Whole Foods.
Vertical growing uses LED lighting and aeroponic mist on leafy greens in stacks that can reach as high as 40 feet. It mists the greens’ roots with nutrients, water and oxygen, using 95% less water and 99% less land than field farming and 40% less water than hydroponics, according to the company’s website.
The lighting allows control of the size, shape, texture, color, flavor and nutrition.
The process involves growing the plants in stacks at a rate said to be 390 times more productive than field-grown plants.
Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the aeroponic farm is “an important and promising sign of the economic evolution of Southside Virginia.”
“There is so much to like in this match between AeroFarms and Danville,” Timmons said. “Danville and Southside Virginia are on their way to becoming a modern innovation hub. The region has an eager and growing workforce.”
AeroFarms provides an exciting opportunity for those launching or changing careers to work for a company with a focus on sustainability, Timmons said.
Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones pointed out that invitations to Monday’s groundbreaking had phrases like “agriculture, elevated” and “new heights.”
“Those words so aptly describe this company and the production that will be taking place in this facility,” Jones said. “I am so proud and happy that AeroFarms puts its faith and trust in our community and built this cutting-edge facility right here in Danville-Pittsylvania County.”
Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors Chairman Vic Ingram said the community celebrates “your presence as we officially cut the ribbon of citizenship, technology, growth and harvest.”
Incentives for the company to come to the Dan River Region included $190,000 in grant money from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, $200,000 from the Governor’s Commonwealth Opportunity Fund and $200,000 from the state’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved a $33,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, which Pittsylvania County will match with local funds. The company is also eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Job Creation Grant program, administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.