Under the multiyear agreement, Plenty will provide 430 Albertsons’ stores across California with four types of greens – baby arugula, baby kale, crispy lettuce and mizuna mix — priced between $4 and $5, in line with other organic greens.
On August 6, AppHarvest announced that food entrepreneur and icon Martha Stewart, Impossible Foods Chief Financial Officer David Lee, and best-selling author and investor J.D. Vance, have joined the company’s board of directors as it prepares to open one of the world’s largest indoor farms this fall in Morehead, Kentucky.
Starting with non-GMO tomatoes, AppHarvest’s farms will provide freshly grown American fruits and vegetables for national grocers, meeting the enormous and growing demand for locally grown produce amidst the supply chain challenges created by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“The future of food will be, has to be, growing nutrient-rich and delicious produce closer to where we eat,” Stewart said. “That means food that tastes better and food that we feel better about consuming. AppHarvest is driving us towards that future and working from within Appalachia to elevate the region.”
Added Vance, “The last few months have taught us that our food system is a little more precarious than we realized. AppHarvest will change that, and it will do so by building a sustainable, durable business in Appalachia, and investing in the people who call it home.”
Lee adds, “AppHarvest’s innovative approach to agriculture has the potential to dramatically change the way we get our produce and the impact our food has on the natural environment. I’m excited to join their mission as they enter this next phase of growth.”
Anna Mason, Partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, the fund led by AOL Co-founder Steve Case to back companies outside of Silicon Valley, will also join the Board. “AppHarvest’s rapid expansion and job creation is exactly what Rise of the Rest envisioned with its focus on helping companies in Middle America grow,” Mason said.
Inspired by the belief that the technology already exists today to grow dramatically more food, with far fewer resources, AppHarvest’s indoor farms reduce the need for acreage, use no harmful pesticides, lessen fuel used in shipping, and are the first of their size that will rely entirely on recycled rainwater for all water needs. AppHarvest’s closed-loop water system eliminates agricultural runoff common in open-field agriculture. This is critical as the U.S. ramps up efforts to secure food systems that can withstand health and climate disruptions.
“It’s time for agriculture in America to change,” said AppHarvest Founder & CEO Jonathan Webb. “The pandemic has demonstrated the need to establish more resilient food systems, and our work is on the forefront of that effort. Eastern Kentucky, with its central U.S. location, provides the perfect place to build AppHarvest’s indoor farms while also providing much needed jobs to a ready workforce.”
AppHarvest’s 2.76-million-square-foot controlled environment agriculture facility has already created 100 construction jobs and will create more than 300 full-time permanent jobs for residents of Eastern Kentucky, where 44% more residents are unemployed than the national average.
With its vision to create America’s AgTech capital in Appalachia, AppHarvest has been recognized for its focus on social good. The company has been certified by the independent non-profit B Lab as a B Corporation, passing a rigorous audit of its sustainability practices.
AppHarvest is also announcing the hires of Marcella Butler as the company’s first Chief People Officer, Jackie Roberts as its first Chief Sustainability Officer, and Geof Rochester as its first Chief Marketing Officer. Butler joins AppHarvest after serving as Impossible Foods' first Chief People Officer, where she led the tripling of employees to more than 650 individuals. Prior to joining Impossible Foods, she worked at Google, first in People Operations, followed by Corporate Development, where she led global acquisition due diligence and integration activities. Roberts joins AppHarvest from The Carlyle Group, where her roles included Chief Sustainability Officer. Prior to The Carlyle Group, she served in several senior roles at the Environmental Defense Fund. Rochester, who has decades of experience in marketing and corporate social responsibility, previously served as Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer of The Nature Conservancy with prior work at WWE, Showtime, Comcast, and Procter & Gamble.
AppHarvest’s Board and staff additions come as the company closes its $28 million Series C funding round. Combined with the company’s prior funding rounds, including project financing, AppHarvest has attracted more than $150 million in investment in just over two years.
Narya, the new venture capital firm co-founded by Vance and Colin Greenspon as well as backed by leading entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, led the investment round with participation from existing investors ValueAct Capital’s Spring Fund, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and Equilibrium, which has provided nearly $100 million in project financing to date.
New investors include Lupa Systems, the private investment firm founded last year by James Murdoch (who along with the ValueAct Spring Fund and Equilibrium, are leading the way for venture’s expansion into sustainability-focused investments); Breyer Capital, founded by early Facebook investor Jim Breyer; food and agriculture fund S2G Ventures (Seed 2 Growth); Black Capital, led by NBA legend Kevin Johnson; and Endeavor Catalyst, the co-investment vehicle through which Endeavor invests into companies founded by its entrepreneurs. Endeavor selected Webb as an Endeavor Entrepreneur in 2019.
To learn more about AppHarvest, click here.
U.S. employers added 1.8 million jobs last month, as the unemployment rate dipped to 10.2%.
The pace of hiring slowed from June, when employers added a record 4.8 million jobs. That suggests a long road back to full employment for the tens of millions of people who have been laid off during the coronavirus pandemic.
The monthly report from the Labor Department tracks job gains between the middle of June and the middle of July. Much of the improvement occurred in late June. Since then, the labor market appears to have lost steam, as infections from the virus continued to climb.
Brian Jackson, a growing media researcher at North Carolina State, spoke at Cultivate’20 Virtual, giving an presentation about growing media and its role in green industries. Here are some key takeaways.
The growing media industry is expanding rapidly.
According to Jackson, growing media suppliers are seeing higher demand than ever from growers. He said right now, there is so much demand that one of the industry’s biggest challenges is simply keeping up.
“Not just here regionally in North Carolina, but also in this country, on this continent and around the world, it’s incredible to see how much different growing systems are being used in crops that they maybe have never been used in before,” he said. “So as growing media demand increase, the demand for new product and new product types is growing at warp speed.”
According to Jackson, growing media suppliers and soilless substrate providers are releasing more new products now than they have at any point in the last few decades in an effort to keep up. The demand for soilless substrates, for instance, is expected to double by 2050. A major driver of that is growing media’s role in modern agriculture and the need for modern solutions to food security problems.
“The presence of European-based substrate companies has increased in the last three-to-five years too,” he said. “So there are a lot of European products that offer a lot of novel products now on the market. Growers have a lot to choose from. And, of course, the more growers have to choose from, the better that is.”
Why growing media is important
Jackson said that a number of food crops — including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and oranges — are being grown in ways they haven’t been grown before is a major driver in the growing media market. He said that this takes several different forms — be it in a controlled environment, a vertical farm or outside in containers — but all of the newer growing methods have different growing media needs than traditional growing methods.
“As populations continue to grow and populations continue to urbanize and food product continues to be shifted more closely to those urban, than a lot of emphasis will be placed on growing media and how that’s placed into food production and food security,” Jackson said.
Jackson noted that the cost of transportation is one factor in growing media cost increases, but it’s not the only one. He said that limits on how far and how long drivers can be on the road drive up costs.
“It’s not just cost and distance,” he said, “but also how much they can drive. There’s a lot of transportation gridlock that all industries are facing.”
Another concern: climate change.
“We all play a role in climate change and how to mitigate it and slow it down,” he said. “We, as growers and researchers, all need to do more in the future to slow down this global crisis. It truly is that and the science proves that.”
So what does that have to do with growing media? Jackson said that, according to a United Nations checklist on how to fight climate change, use of growing media can help in three ways:
- By helping to create more sustainable food production and end hunger, particularly in remote areas of the world. “I truly think container growing can help with this,” he said.
- Carbon inputs and limiting distance of products shipped
- Clean water and sanitation
Jackson said he does not like using the word “replacement” since nothing can be 100% replaced. Instead, he used the word “alternative” to new introductions that give growers something different than rockwool or perlite in growing media.
For the former, he says rockwool alternatives is one of the things he is most consulted about. As for the latter, he says the adoption of wood-based products has made perlite arguably the most affected product on the market.
“There is an on-going shift in how traditional products are being used and what their place in the market is in the future,” he said.
United Fresh Produce Association announced the promotion of Dr. Jennifer McEntire to the position of senior vice president, food safety & technology. Dr. McEntire joined the association four years ago, bringing her extensive background in food safety, regulatory issues and association management to the United Fresh Team.
“Jennifer’s unique skills have proved a perfect match for the produce industry, bringing deep scientific knowledge, common-sense solutions and a personal ability to connect with members,” said United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel. “Jennifer has grown both the portfolio of food safety services and offerings to our members and has established trusted and respected relationships with regulatory and academic leaders at every level.”
Dr. McEntire began her Washington, D.C.-based career in 2001 at the National Food Processors Association and as a visiting scientist at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After earning her Ph.D. from Rutgers University studying Listeria monocytogenes, she joined the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), where she received the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director’s Special Citation Award. She was specifically cited for her food defense work with the Food and Ag Sector of the Department of Homeland Security.
At IFT, Dr. McEntire also led a multi-media career guidance initiative, promoting the field of food science in all 18,000 U.S. high schools, which was recognized with a Gold Award by the Society for National Association Publications. Leveraging her formal training in adult education and engagement, McEntire brought her passion for educating future generations to United Fresh, most recently launching the Produce Safety Immersion Program, an exclusive year-long educational and mentoring program that builds the knowledge, network, and critical thinking skills of 15 newer produce safety professionals. Her support of education extends to her personal life, where she also has established a scholarship for food science students at the University of Delaware, her undergraduate alma mater.
Dr. McEntire subsequently worked with The Acheson Group in Washington, DC, led by former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson. She later joined the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, where she led the microbiology, chemistry, packaging and forensics labs and the process authority teams, before joining United Fresh in 2016.
Dr. McEntire is recognized as an international expert in food traceability, having led the traceability pilots under contract with FDA as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act as she transitioned from IFT to The Acheson Group. She recently co-edited and co-authored the authoritative textbook on food traceability.
"Jennifer’s extensive network and long history of collaboration and engagement with diverse groups of stakeholders has proven to be an asset to United Fresh and the entire produce industry,” said Stenzel.