Watch now: Hailed as the ‘future of agriculture,’ AeroFarms provides tour of new facility in Dan River Region | Local Business News

AeroFarms will produce tens of billions of leafy green vegetable plants per year at its new facility. 

Containing 48 plant-growing towers four-and-half stories high, the operation will entail the equivalent of a 1,000-acre farm. 

AeroFarms representatives provided a peek inside their new chemical-free vertical-farming facility Friday morning at Cane Creek Centre Industrial Park off South Boston Road near Danville.

“We are bringing a lot of new varieties to the marketplace,” AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg told attendees at the facility just before the tour began.

Rosenberg was referring to the leafy greens that will be grown aeroponically inside the 150,000-square-foot building, including micro arugula, micro wasabi mustard, micro kale and other vegetables. 

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, said Charles David, global head of talent acquisition with the company.  

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Products grown at the facility will be sold at major retailers including Food Lion, Walmart, Whole Foods and other stores, said Marc Oshima, AeroFarms co-founder and chief marketing officer.

AeroFarms tour

AeroFarms global head of talent acquisition Charles David leads a tour of the AeroFarms facility at Cane Creek Centre Industrial Park on Friday morning. 

AeroFarms will make the most of every inch of the structure — which is the size of more than two football fields — at Cane Creek Centre.

“There’s no unused space in this building,” said Steve Schwartz, vice president of Evans General Contractors, who collaborated with AeroFarms on the construction project.   

The structure will includes an office and administrative area, and areas for cooling, seed receiving, packaging, cart and tray washing, and growing and processing.   

AeroFarms, based in Newark, New Jersey, specializes in chemical-free vertical farming and announced in December 2019 that it plans to bring 92 jobs and invest about $55 million in the Dan River Region.

But David said during the tour that AeroFarms will end up hiring more than 100 people. About 99% of those hired will be local, Rosenberg said. All of those employees should hired by the third quarter this year, with production beginning in May, Oshima said. 

The company will hold a job fair March 15 and 16 at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. 

“We’re looking for great, passionate people, curious people who want to have an impact,” Rosenberg said. 

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.

AeroFarms tour

AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg speaks following a tour of the AeroFarms facility at Cane Creek Center Industrial Park on Friday morning. 

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.

Groundbreaking on the facility was held in April 2021 and the building is complete, with HVAC installation to be finished soon. Workers will begin moving equipment into the AeroFarms location in a few weeks, David said. 

“This project is on time, on budget, even with these supply chain issues,” Rosenberg said. 

Matt Lohr, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry, said the AeroFarms project is an example of an industry helping to get the state “moving again” and bringing jobs to rural areas. 

“This is exactly the type of industry and the type of business that the governor [Glenn Youngkin] talks about all the time,” Lohr said. “I’m really just excited to be here and see first-hand and take a tour and learn more.”

He called AeroFarms’ project “the future of agriculture.” 

AeroFarms chose the Dan River Region because of the collaboration among the city, county and state officials, and the region’s agricultural base and overall innovation, Rosenberg said.

The company’s New Jersey facility produces billions of plants per year, but the Cane Creek operation will exceed that. 

AeroFarms tour

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr, left, speaks just before a tour of the AeroFarms facility at Cane Creek Centre Industrial Park on Friday morning as AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg looks on.  

“Tens and 20s of billions of individual plants per year will be grown here,” David said. 

The company will have the largest indoor growing facility to date at Cane Creek Centre, a joint industrial park owned by Danville and Pittsylvania County via the Danville-Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Pittsylvania County, Danville and the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance to secure the project for Virginia.

Incentives for the company include $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. Ruff is vice chairman and Marshall is a member of the tobacco commission

AeroFarms will receive that money only if it meets its jobs and investment goals within the three years.

Pittsylvania County will also provide a rebate of 70% on the AeroFarms’ real estate and machinery and tools taxes over seven years.

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