Q & A With 80 Acres Farms CEO Mike Zelkind
Indoor Ag-Con is excited to announced that 80 Acres Farms Co-Founder & CEO Mike Zelkind will lead one of the headliner CEO Keynote presentations during our October 4-5, 2021 edition at the Hilton Orlando,
Utilizing world-class technology and analytics, 80 Acres Farms offers customers a wide variety of pesticide-free food with a longer shelf life that exceeds the highest food safety standards. And, this vertical farming leader has been making headlines over the past year in a number of areas — from the opening of a new farm to expanded retail partnerships, new research iniatitives and more.
Ahead of his upcoming Indoor Ag-Con October keynote, we had the chance to catch up with Mike to learn more about his company’s exciting developments AND his thoughts on the fast-growing indoor farming industry itself.
We’re all very excited for you to share what’s been happening at 80 Acres ‘live and in person’ this October in Orlando at Indoor Ag Con – especially news on your incredible new Hamilton, Ohio facility, which opened in January of this year. How’s everything growing there? Any updates you’d like to share?
It’s been a fantastic year for us! We opened our largest automated farm in the Fall of 2020, scaling our technology and production 10x greater than prior. Yield, quality, and efficiencies exceeded expectations out of the gate and allowed us to hit our unit economics.
A few months later, we announced our expanded partnership with Kroger, offering nine products across over 300 stores in 4 different regions.
We were also proud to achieve the Kosher certification for our products, one more tool to communicate our promise of exceptionally high quality to consumers.
Lastly, we were honored to tell the story of 80 Acres Farms on a global stage on the BBC docuseries “Follow the Food.” It was inspiring to showcase the farms we built in our revitalizing city of Hamilton, OH.
Help our readers understand your role as CEO of 80 Acres as well as that of your colleague, Tisha Livingston, and her role as CEO at Infinite Acres?
Tisha and I have been in the food industry for over 30 years each, running manufacturing and operations for some of America’s most-loved brands. We have worked together for more than a decade and decided to leave our careers and start our venture, 80 Acres Farms.
We wanted to bring fresh food closer to communities, and we felt indoor farming was the answer. I am 80 Acres Farms CEO and Tisha, President. When we built our first commercial farm, not everything scaled as planned. Luckily, we had a fantastic partner, Priva, that was there to help us work thru the complexities.
80 Acres realized that to scale vertical farming, we had to collaborate with world-class companies, and Infinite Acres was born. We launched Infinite Acres in 2019 with our two partners Ocado, UK’s largest online grocer, and Priva, global leading horticulture innovators.
Tisha became CEO of Infinite Acres and resides in the Netherlands half the time each month. Infinite Acres now oversees the technology involved in building and scaling farms globally.
80 Acres is the preferred operator to create an end-to-end solution for customers. The partnership has strengthened our global presence and ability to scale the technology.
Given some of the big industry news of late regarding companies like AppHarvest, Bowery and others (AeroFarms SPAC), how would you describe what you are seeing in terms of industry growth, over the past say three years?
Retailers and consumers have a growing appetite for fresh food grown indoors. Retailers want fresher food with shorter supply chains to significantly reduce supply inefficiencies, inconsistent quality and reduce food waste. In addition, consumers are more aware of how their food is grown and its effect on the environment. Therefore, they want food grown with zero, not fewer, pesticides with the highest nutritional value and grown close to store for longer-lasting freshness.
As for the industry, the technology advancements are maturing, better suited for the environments, and costs are coming down to make getting into the business more attainable and farms’ ability to become profitable.
Breeders are beginning to focus on identifying seed varieties beyond lettuce to find characteristics best suited for indoor environments, increasing yield, flavor, and quality.
The advancements in lighting, robotics, automation, breeding, and standardization have led to scaling. The industry and technology weren’t quite ready before now. The culmination of consumer desires and technology advancements has led to extreme growth for the industry. Together with, the great companies you mention above as well as the many other pioneers, we are reinventing the produce industry. It’s an exciting time for agriculture!
Can you share any updates on research projects you have planned through the new collaborative research agreement 80 Acres has with the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station?
Years ago, we build our R&D facility In Arkansas. Late last year we began upgrading It to become a world class R&D Center of Excellence. Our neighbor, University of Arkansas, Is a logical first partner for the facility, but many more are coming soon. The partnerships we are forming are wholistic.
Don’t miss Mike Zelkind’s Indoor Ag-Con Orlando 2021 Keynote Address on Tuesday, October 5 at 11:30 AM