This interview details 80 Acres Farms, an indoor farming company based in the United States. The interview is with Mike Zelkind, CEO and co-founder, and Tisha Livingston, co-founder and CEO of Infinite Acres, our technology subsidiary.
Before we founded 80 Acres Farms, we worked for big food companies including ConAgra, Bumble Bee, and Del Monte. In our last role together, we turned around a struggling vegetable canning company in Arkansas. Looking for suppliers, we met with farmers all over the eastern United States—from Florida to New York—and heard about the same issues over and over again: depleted soils, pest pressure, extreme weather… The central issue was a lack of control.
We knew there had to be a better, more dependable way to grow food, and a more sustainable way to meet consumer demand for fresh, local produce. In 2015, after trips to Europe and Asia to explore CEA solutions, we came back to our home state of Ohio and founded our vertical farming company.
We built the company on five principles: One, food should taste great. Two, food should be grown where people are. Three, food should be wholesome, nutritious, and free from pesticides. Four, fresh, healthy produce should be available year-round, and five, feeding people should not endanger our environment.
Now, we have eight facilities in the U.S. and the Netherlands, including both large-scale production facilities and R&D facilities. Through our Netherlands-based subsidiary, Infinite Acres, we’re combining industry-leading Dutch horticultural technology with the best American manufacturing and processing technology, bringing a year-round supply of fresh, pesticide-free produce to parts of the U.S. that import most of their food from farms thousands of miles away.
We have a lot of room to grow, but we can’t do it alone. Within the industry, we need to work toward standardization. We need to be sharing best practices and lessons learned. We can compete with each other while recognizing that this opportunity is bigger than any of us, and there’s plenty of room for all of us to play—if we can deliver on our promises and show consumers, government officials, and technology partners the value in our technology.
To our knowledge, we are the only vertical farming company with profitable farm-level economics. We’ve been growing toward that point deliberately through continuous improvement in operations and commercial success.
We started with a container farm in 2016, then built a couple of smaller farms where we tested and optimized different variables—such as lighting, airflow, and fertigation—before putting our learnings to work in the fully automated “reference farm” we opened in 2021. Now, we’re modularizing and industrializing our technology, identifying parts that we can snap together to build farms anywhere in the world, like our new 200,000-square-foot farm in Kentucky, which became operational in 2023.
As we’ve grown, we’ve worked closely with technology partners like Siemens, which is helping us standardize and scale, and retail partners like Kroger, which has introduced us to millions of consumers via more than 1,000 stores. We don’t think we have to do it all ourselves, and that has helped us scale more quickly and efficiently.
Our Dutch-American technology subsidiary, Infinite Acres, also sets us apart. Our technology team has integrated decades of industrial, technological, and horticultural know-how into a technology platform based on proven solutions and continuous innovation and improvement.
Our newest farm, in Florence, Kentucky, is a 200,000-square-foot facility that can grow approximately 4 million pounds of produce per year. We have over 300 employees across 8 facilities in the U.S. and the Netherlands and reach more than 1,300 retailers and restaurants across the eastern U.S.
We want to grow a lot more than just salad. Now that we’ve proven our technology, we see enormous potential in broadening our product portfolio with new crops. Any industry that needs plant-based ingredients ought to be paying attention to indoor farms that can grow with pharmaceutical-grade accuracy and unprecedented consistency, especially as climate change disrupts tradition supply chains. We can build farms right next to manufacturing facilities, providing a year-round solution to supply chain and quality issues while helping companies meet their sustainability goals.
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