AeroFarms plants roots in Cane Creek Centre
AeroFarms won’t harvest the first crops at its new Cane Creek Centre facility until summer, but the company is already expanding.
In December 2019, the Newark, New Jersey-based indoor agriculture company announced it would invest $42 million and create 92 jobs in the 136,000-square-foot facility building in the industrial park owned by Danville and Pittsylvania County. Now the company has upped that to $53 million and as many as 150 jobs.
“We’re seeing so much interest and demand, we’re thinking about how can we service that by expanding our workforce,” says Marc Oshima, AeroFarms cofounder and chief marketing officer.
Those jobs, says Pittsylvania County Economic Director Matt Rowe, will pay a collective $4 million to $5 million annually.
AeroFarms will grow and harvest short-stemmed leafy greens, herbs and microgreens and process them for shipping to retail outlets and restaurants within 250 to 300 miles — “from seed to package under one roof,” Oshima says. The vegetables, nurtured with efficient lighting, a mist of water and nutrients, grow in a patented cloth medium made out of natural fiber. The proprietary system uses up to 95% less water than outdoor farming and no pesticides. Because growing conditions are optimized and another growing season can begin almost as soon as one ends, the system can be up to 390 times more productive than growing the same plants outside, the company says.
“It’s really writing a new playbook in agriculture,” Oshima says.
AeroFarms chose Cane Creek Centre because it’s within a day’s drive of 50 million potential customers.
AeroFarms is a B corporation, meaning it’s certified as a for-profit company committed to transparency and social and environmental responsibility.
That mission includes giving formerly incarcerated people a second chance. “We owe them an opportunity to help address recidivism [and] provide career opportunities,” Oshima says.
In Newark, AeroFarms put working farms in schools, senior centers, community centers, even City Hall. The company plans to do the same sort of thing in Virginia. “The ambition is to extend these community farms into the communities that we operate in,” Oshima says, “so people have an opportunity to be hands-on with their growing and appreciate where their food’s coming from.”
Rowe seems convinced AeroFarms is a good catch.
“It’s great news to bring in companies,” he says. “It’s better news to bring in companies that have a history of watching out and taking part in the community.”