80 Acres Farms to reduce the number of miles produce travels from ground to plate

Winter in Ohio is not the season for fresh, homegrown strawberries and tomatoes — for now.

80 Acres Farms has big plans to change the local food system by bringing fresh, nutritious and environmentally-friendly produce to local plates year-round.
“Taste, nutrition and texture are based on many variables, such as healthiness of the plants and distance they are grown from market, which leads to picking the vegetables before they are ripe,” said Mike Zelkind, CEO of 80 Acres Farms. “Unfortunately, food today is bred to survive the complex global supply chain. By taking food miles out of the equation, we can provide high-quality, tasty, nutritious foods at a good price point. We’re not going to replace farmers. We want to provide year-round, locally grown produce.”
80 Acres Farms recently purchased a vacant building on an industrial site in Spring Grove Village. By February, its “plant paradise” will be up and running. The building will be converted into a fully-enclosed hydroponic farm. Using efficient technology and vertical growing systems, 80 Acres Farms will leverage its quarter-acre building into the equivalent of a 50-acre farm. The facility will also include a visitor center for the public.
“Our customer experience center will invite in the community,” Zelkind said. “We want to bring in local chefs for demonstration and have school kids come to learn about science, photosynthesis and nutrition. This project will show we can farm at a commercial level, but it will not be a massive production facility. Our intention is to have a lot of these farms all over. We want to be part of the community, so each farm needs to be right-sized for that place.”
The 80 Acres Farms growing system is water efficient, using 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture. As a completely closed system, the crops will be grown without pesticides. The efficiencies of the process will also increase the crops’ grow cycle.

Lettuce grown in a traditional garden can take 90-120 days from planting to harvest, depending on variables like heat, precipitation and pests. Inside the controlled environment at 80 Acres Farms, that same lettuce could be ready to harvest after 28 days, allowing for 12 crop cycles annually instead of the one or two harvests in traditional agriculture.
“Whether you are using soil or hydroponic methods to grow food, both are capable of providing delicious produce,” Zelkind said. “There really is an art to each method and one has to understand exactly what the plants need environmentally in order to grow a flavorful product. In both cases, an incredibly important aspect are the food miles. The further the product travels, the earlier it had to have been picked, which means the less time it had to develop its full flavor potential.”
80 Acres Farms has been working with small growers in Alabama to perfect its process. The research involves experimenting with temperature and light, as well as the equipment that supports the plants. 80 Acres Farms recently opened a manufacturing facility in Granite Falls, NC, to produce that equipment.

“With any new industry, there are folks trying to figure out the best way to do it,” Zelkind said. “We have an engineering team in North Carolina to build our own grow systems. We’ve teamed up with the best technology to build what will work for our needs.”

80 Acres Farms currently has 23 employees at its various sites. Over the next three years, Zelkind plans to hire 50 additional staff for the Cincinnati location.

“Our mission is to provide healthy, nutritious and affordable local food,” he said. “Our vision is to feed the world with locally grown, fresh and tasty produce, reconnecting people with the food they eat.”

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.  
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