Mind Your Wake podcast – Episode 3

“An agriculture facility that’s leading a revolution in America” is how AppHarvest’s founder and chief executive, Jonathan Webb, describes his Eastern Kentucky-based company that’s working not only to develop the region’s economy but also to implement a more just food system for the greater Appalachian area. 

 

Placed amongst the Appalachian hills in Morehead, KY, AppHarvest is a 60-acre greenhouse structure working to grow and harvest crops for the surrounding communities and throughout the midwestern region of the US. They utilize a technique called “hydroponic growing”, where plants are grown without soil and instead with mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. This keeps their business running and providing for the region year-round, all the while reducing the amount of water typically used in soil-based farming by 90%.  AppHarvest is an AgTech company, and by combining modern technology with elemental and sustainable farming practices, AppHarvest aims to revolutionize the way humans–especially those in the Midwestern region–view and practice farming.

AppHarvest is also a purpose-driven business, meaning that, as a company, they continually work toward something much greater than the success of their products and services. As you’ll hear in this week’s podcast episode, AppHarvest is committed to helping solve the region’s issues, holding values above profit, caring about their workers’ well-being, and providing a more sustainable method of farming for the area. 

 

Solving the region’s biggest issues

Being from Eastern Kentucky, Webb has always recognized the growing need for economic development opportunities in Appalachia. In fact, Webb comes from a long line of hardworking Appalachians involved in common occupations for the region (his father was a machinery dealer and great grandfather a coal miner). Considering the town of Morehead can reach “70% of the US in a day drive,” Webb is therefore positioned with a great opportunity for his business to provide economic prosperity for the region. The company will be able to greatly contribute to the area’s exportation of goods as well as provide jobs for upwards of 300 people (and this is just at the Morehead location). 

 

Committed to their values

In Canopy’s podcast interview, AppHarvest also proves themselves to be a values-based organization by stating their commitment to their community, their region, as well as “obviously… to developing a more just food system,” according to Webb. He says, “With that, we have investors that have the conviction of knowing that we want to be here and operating in 10, 20, 30 years and that we have to invest in [our] communities for the long haul.” Through this, AppHarvest is illustrating how being a values-based organization can actually make you more attractive to funders and investors when you’re in the startup space. So, if you’re still scratching your head as to why businesses are turning towards social enterprise models for long-term success, look to AppHarvest to see such a model in action. 

 

Care about their workers

For the podcast interview, AppHarvest’s Impact Lead, Nickie Cashdollar, talks about the development of AppHarvest’s company culture by using the catchy phrase of “growing our own growers.” In other words, she explains that “we really want to develop culture of people who care about the food that’s going to be on their plates since this is a tomato that you can actually pick up at your local grocery store.” She also speaks on how they want to hire employees “who will be proud to work for AppHarvest”. In nurturing a culture of pride and dignity, AppHarvest is able to attract and retain talent for the region’s upcoming generation of workers. 

Environmentally-driven and conscious

Webb originally got the idea for AppHarvest from a high tech greenhouse in Northwestern Europe (in fact, AppHarvest sources all of their greenhouse materials from the same manufacturer in the Netherlands) which is able to yield “30 times what a traditional farm can produce without the use of harmful chemicals,” Jonathan tells us. By reducing the amount of chemicals they use and by implementing hydroponic growing practices, AppHarvest is able to grow their crops efficiently and sustainability, which results in affordable produce for their consumers. 

 

We are very fortunate to have a company like AppHarvest with us in the state of Kentucky, not only because of the unique and progressive farming techniques they’re introducing to the area, but also because of all the social and environmental “good” they are providing and will continue to provide for the Appalachian region. As Jonathan says, the most effective way to become a social enterprise is to “Look at the problems first. Try to come up with a solution, then wrap a business model around it.” Seems simple enough for all of us to do, right?

 

To find out more about AppHarvest’s mission and services, head over to their website at www.appharvest.com

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