Today’s Solutions: September 25, 2021

The collapse of the coal industry may be good news for the environment, but for towns in the Appalachian mountains that have long relied on coal, it’s been disastrous for the economy and eliminated thousands of jobs. The good news is that we’ve seen a number of green-minded initiatives spring up in the region to bring back work for locals, from adventure tourism to beekeeping, both of which we’ve written about.

In a similar light, a new startup called AppHarvest is now running a massive state-of-the-art indoor farm near the small eastern Kentucky town of Morehead. The first harvest of sustainably-produced tomatoes is already being prepared for shipment across the country, with AppHarvest hoping to prove a new model for making agriculture eco-friendly while bringing new jobs to coal country.

Unlike most indoor farms that rely on LEDs to make plants grow, the 2.76-million-square-foot facility is designed to harness the most natural light possible in order to save energy. In addition, the farm uses far less land than traditional farms, and far less water, thanks to its hydroponic system that doesn’t rely on the soil. Not to mention that the water that is used is filtered from rainwater captured and stored on site.

Another aspect that makes the AppHarvest model more sustainable is simply its location. While tomatoes are often trucked to the East Coast from California or Mexico, Kentucky’s central location shrinks the carbon footprint of delivery.

Although we don’t have numbers regarding how many people AppHarvest employs, their goal of producing as many as 45 million pounds of tomatoes a year indicates that they need quite a lot of workers. On top of that, the startup is currently building two more farms in the state and has plans to add a dozen indoor farms in Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia by 2025.

With the coal industry fading, it’s promising to see sustainable agriculture come in and provide new jobs in a region that truly needs it.

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