Pittsylvania County will receive 66 more jobs than originally expected from AeroFarms, an indoor vertical farming company coming to the area, according to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office.
The company initially promised 92 new jobs at Cane Creek Centre, a joint industrial park owned by the City of Danville and Pittsylvania County. This site will be home to the almost 139,000 square-foot facility that will become the largest of its kind in the world, according to the release.
The release also said production would increase, though the facility is not open yet.
AeroFarms now plans production seven days a week to meet increased demand, said Marc Oshima, co-founder and chief marketing officer of the company.
This demand is “driven by the consumer who has fallen in love with the quality and incredible flavor” of AeroFarms’ leafy greens and microgreens, Oshima said.
Leafy greens are the most common crop for indoor vertical farming operations because they require little space and are ready to harvest quickly.
AeroFarms is based in Newark, New Jersey. The Pittsylvania location will be the company’s second commercial indoor vertical farm, with the first in Ithaca, New York.
This second location will help the company expand to the Mid-Atlantic region, according to an April press release on its website.
The 66 additional jobs will include seeding, growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping, Oshima said.
“It’s just absolutely wonderful,” said Vic Ingram, chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. “Before they are even up and running, they’re already expanding.”
The facility is expected to open this summer.
In addition to the jobs, Ingram said the technology AeroFarms is bringing to the area is “phenomenal.”
Vertical farming is a technique that involves growing crops in vertical stacked layers, with the intention to control the environment for ideal conditions. AeroFarms uses aeroponics, a method of growing plants by suspending them in the air and misting them with nutrients.
The company uses up to 95% less water than traditional farming and no pesticides, according to its website. The vertical set-up also means this kind of farming allows more production on a smaller amount of land.
This method could be a staple in the future of the farming industry.
There’s been increased demand for indoor and vertical farming in the Southeast region of the country, said Brennan Washington, the Southeast and outreach coordinator for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
“As we see the situation in the West turn increasingly bad for food production with droughts, I think you are going to see more developments of these indoor vertical farming operations,” Washington said.
SARE is a competitive grants and education program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington works in Georgia for the Southern region of SARE.
“We haven’t gotten any requests for funding for any potential [indoor vertical farming] project yet, but I expect that to change soon,” he said. “I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we do.”
However, indoor vertical farming is an area with high barriers to entry, Washington said.
“It’s a space that’s really being dominated by larger, well-funded entities,” he said. “They are extremely expensive and capital-intensive to get into…it’s not something your average everyday small-time farmer could get involved in and that may cause some problems for small farmers down the road because it’s a question of whether they’re going to be able to compete with things like leafy greens.”
Still, the AeroFarms expansion is welcome news in Pittsylvania County and the City of Danville, two entities that are working toward a common goal of growing the area, Ingram said.
“We don’t want to overlook any opportunities for growth and expansion and jobs for our citizens,” he said. “We were hit really hard when we lost the tobacco and textile industries. So, all of these diverse companies that are moving in, it’s just unbelievable.”
Ingram also mentioned the Tysons Foods production plant coming to Cane Creek Centre in 2023.
“You’ve got AeroFarms, a vertical growth corporation, and then right down the road we’ve got
Tysons coming, and before you know it, you’ve got salads and chicken,” Ingram said. “You just can’t beat that. That’s a great combination.”