$300M vertical farming campus coming to Chesterfield
Plenty Unlimited expected to create 300 jobs
A $300 million indoor vertical farm campus — billed as the world’s largest — is coming to Chesterfield County’s Meadowville Technology Park, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Wednesday. San Francisco-based Plenty Unlimited Inc. is expected to produce 300 jobs over the next six years in a multiphase project.
The first farm, expected to be completed in winter 2023-24, will grow Driscoll’s strawberries at scale. Founded in 2014, Plenty is based in California and recently secured $400 million in Series E financing. The company has more than 200 patents related to its agricultural technology, which allows it to grow produce year-round in 30-foot grow towers.
Youngkin, who made the announcement Wednesday morning at the future campus site, called the vertical growing technology “mammoth towers that represent the future of agriculture. They’re rewriting the rules of agriculture, where you can, in fact, see yields and yet use fewer and fewer of our precious natural resources. How’s that for a combination?” CEO Arama Kukutai said that indoor vertical farming has up to 350 times the yield per acre than traditional outdoor farms.
The campus will be on 120 acres off Bermuda Hundred Road in the Chester region, and officials with Plenty anticipate 20 million pounds of produce to be grown annually when the full campus is in operation. Aside from producing about 4 million pounds of strawberries annually, Plenty expects to grow leafy greens, cherry tomatoes and other crops.
Chesterfield is situated within a day’s drive of about 100 million customers, according to Kukutai. “Transport times, shelf-life freshness — those are all really important,” he said Wednesday. Kukutai noted that the project involved “a huge amount of investment and effort,” and that the company made a commitment to remain in Virginia at least 20 years. “These are long-term, very large physical assets that we’re building. We hope to not just create hundreds of millions of dollars of investment but hundreds of jobs, and to have this be really a historic moment in the development of indoor farming.”
At Wednesday’s announcement, Garland Reiter of Driscoll’s noted that the extreme heat earlier this year in California has caused further challenges to conventional agriculture. “It’s really hard to farm our crop, so we look forward to going indoors,” he said.
Virginia competed with five other states for the project, and Youngkin said he met multiple times with the company’s leadership during late winter and early spring, as Plenty decided where to go.
Plenty Unlimited has a research facility in Wyoming and is currently building a vertical indoor farm in Compton, California. Earlier this year, the company struck a deal to supply leafy greens to Walmart in California, with the possibility of more markets in the future as Plenty opens additional farms.
Virginia has become home to operations for several indoor agriculture companies, including AeroFarms, which announced its expansion plans in Pittsylvania County in July, Beanstalk’s launch in Fairfax County, and Soli Organic Inc. in Rockingham County, which sells lettuces, herbs and purées at 20,000 stores nationally.
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services worked with Chesterfield County to secure the Plenty deal, and Youngkin approved a $2.4 million grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and $500,000 from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund — an incentive package created specially for the company, Youngkin said.
Plenty is eligible for other benefits through the Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone grant program, as well as the major business facility job tax credit for full-time jobs created. VEDP will provide job training and other support through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program at no cost to the company.
Youngkin said that with AeroFarms and Plenty here, the state will have the two largest indoor vertical farming facilities in the world.
Last week, nonprofit drugmaker Civica Rx announced its plans for a new lab in Chesterfield’s Meadowville Technology Park, a $27.8 million investment expected to create 51 jobs.