The Spring Grove Village indoor farm, 80 Acres Farms, is in the process of expanding tenfold to two locations in Hamilton. Recently, the business gave WVXU an inside look at how it uses computers to seed, grow, light and harvest its produce.
"It's not voodoo magic," says co-owner and CEO Mike Zelkind. "It's simple eighth grade science."
It's been more than a year since he and Tisha Livingston opened the Spring Grove Village location on Este Avenue, where they grow lettuce, kale, collard greens, tomatoes and cucumber. In Hamilton, they'll also grow strawberries.
Livingston says when customers see and taste the produce, "They say wow!"
Zelkind explains the vegetables are sold locally so people are treated to fresh, pesticide-free produce. Customers include Clifton Market, Jungle Jim's, Whole Foods, Dorthy Lane Markets and various restaurants. He points to a couple of the automated machines. "A lot of the magic happens here from air flow and lighting control and a lot of the artificial intelligence we're using, which we are practicing here."
As the plant grows, 80 Acres provides different lighting and environmental conditions at various stages of growth. Sensors indicate when a plant isn't doing well and notifies the staff to provide extra nutrients. Zelkind says nobody else in the world is growing vine crops like this.
"The challenge for indoor farming is how do you make unit economics work?" says Zelkind. "It's a great concept. It's the most sustainable form of farming available. We use 97 percent less water."
He adds that there is a place for indoor crops and it could help solve food desert problems. "We think there are some products in a lot of different parts of the world that should be grown indoors, but not everything," he says. "There's a place for outdoor crops, a place for greenhouse crops and there's a place for indoor crops."
80 Acres will have two grow locations in Hamilton. One is at 319 Second Street inside a three-story building, where the company will grow vine crops. Another is in Hamilton Enterprise Park. There, 80 Acres will plant and harvest leafy greens and herbs. Both will open in 2019.
The company also has smaller farms in Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina. The 80 Acres name comes from what Zelkind says is the equivalent of what the quarter-acre inside the Cincinnati space can grow outside.