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The Short Version: Couples in certain parts of the U.S. can’t find fresh, nutritious produce for a date-night meal in the middle of winter. 80 Acres Farms set out to provide consumers around the country with tasty produce from its commercial vertical farms in Ohio, Arkansas, and North Carolina. Its all-indoor facilities are year-round growing environments and produce a wide variety of lettuces, microgreens, herbs, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Healthy foods from 80 Acres Farms are available all year and make the perfect ingredients for delicious date-night meals.
One thing couples everywhere learned in 2020 is that they don’t have to leave the house to have a special date night. Some of the most romantic evenings involve cooking a healthy meal together, but people don’t always have access to farm-fresh produce to use in their recipes.
If couples live in tropical environments like South Florida, they may find locally grown, highly nutritious vegetables throughout the year. For those in many other parts of the nation, it’s not so easy. Mike Zelkind and Tish Livingston wanted to find a sustainable solution to that dilemma, so they co-founded 80 Acres Farms with an eye on innovation.
One problem was that the tomatoes for sale in grocery stores throughout the Midwest in the winter months must be shipped from California or other warmer locations. That process requires farmers to pick them before they fully ripen, which can significantly impact the taste. Anyone who’s eaten a tomato grown in a nearby garden compared to one from a supermarket knows the difference.
“Our tomatoes are a fan favorite because, whether it’s winter or February or snowing, it tastes like it just came out of your garden,” said Rebecca Haders, the Vice President of Marketing and Creative for 80 Acres Farms. “It has a really rich flavor because it ripens on the vine, and it develops the sugars and the flavors that it can’t at other types of farms.”
80 Acres Farms uses indoor vertical farming technology to offer fresh, nutritious foods, including microgreens, lettuces, cucumbers, herbs, and more. Those fresh ingredients can be the basis for a great at-home date night throughout the year — no matter where a couple lives.
Rebecca said the founders each has more than 25 years of experience working in the food industry. Many large companies hired them to turn their organizations around to make a profit, but that work wasn’t rewarding enough. The two decided to work together to create a new company and their own legacy.
They took their life savings and invested it in an initiative that would provide real food grown close to where people live. At first, they thought growing in greenhouses was the answer, so they traveled to Europe to learn more about the process.
“They realized that greenhouses weren’t ideal because they were still very affected by weather,” Rebecca said. “It’s not replicable across the United States because we have so many different climates. You can’t design one greenhouse and put them up all over.”
Next, the team traveled to Japan to learn more about vertical farming. It turns out, farmers don’t need to add pesticides, and it’s possible to grow in controlled, indoor environments no matter what the conditions outside. Vertical farms produce a lot of food but with less water and fewer added nutrients than other commercial methods.
“They wanted to change the way people eat,” Rebecca said.
So, they focused on the American Midwest, which they both consider home. They opened up a headquarters and farm in Ohio. Today, they have eight total farms throughout Ohio, Arkansas, and North Carolina that can ship to stores within a matter of days of harvest.
The company started building medium-sized farms to test the technology before expanding to larger farms. The farms are entirely indoors and use LED lights and recirculated water.
“We can produce 10 million servings a year because we stack all of our growth on top of each other,” Rebecca said. “We can produce enough food so that people in the Midwest can get fresh food that’s only a day or two old. We’re used to getting our food from California, and it can take six or seven days to get it to the store. That changes the way you eat.”
80 Acres Farms has been successfully growing for four years, and it’s currently the only commercial vertical farming organization that grows tomatoes and cucumbers in a closed environment. 80 Acres Farms also includes herbs, lettuce, and baby greens.
Baby greens, or microgreens, are the same plant as regular greens, including arugula or mustard greens, but they’re picked earlier. As a result, they have a brighter, stronger flavor and even more nutritional benefits. Rebecca said baby greens are up to 40% more nutritious than the adult version of the greens.
“People are looking for newer and fresher, and you can see the difference on the shelf,” Rebecca said. “Our lettuces are much more vibrant, and our tomatoes are fully red. Even from a visual standpoint, you can tell they’re much fresher.”
The company’s brand ambassadors also offer in-store samples. Customers who try the produce grown by 80 Acres Farms say they can tell the difference in the flavor that comes from pesticide-free technology and nearby harvesting.
So many couples seek the freshest produce for their at-home date nights because ingredients make a significant difference in the result. It’s difficult to create restaurant-quality meals with dull greens and vegetables. And with farm-fresh produce, they don’t need to load up on dressings and other unhealthy additions.
“Home cooking has become so much more popular, and people are spending more time at home, so ingredients are essential,” Rebecca said. “You can appreciate how special the ingredients are and how flavorful they can be.”
Rebecca recommends keeping recipes simple to preserve the flavors of fresh vegetables. For example, couples can use balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or just some lemon juice to dress a salad.
80 Acres Farms is actively expanding its operations, so more couples throughout the U.S. have access to its delicious produce. Now that the technology has been proven successful, the company is looking to expand its footprint worldwide.
That is good news for the environment, too. 80 Acres Farms uses 97% less water than traditional farming because of its recirculation systems. Climate impacts are mitigated because food isn’t transported across the country. Fresh vegetables naturally last longer in the refrigerator, too, so there’s less waste overall.
“Everybody who works here believes in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Rebecca said. “It’s amazing that you can eat better, and the foods can taste better, and also you don’t have the drain on natural resources.”