The AppHarvest Foundation, which teaches controlled environment agriculture (CEA) to high school students across Central Appalachia in order to introduce them to entrepreneurship and high-tech agriculture, has announced the expansion of its AgTech Education Program with the addition of a hydroponic farm classroom at Rockcastle County High School in Mount Vernon, Kentucky.
Leading financial services company Cowen, Inc. provided funding for the farm school in Rockcastle County in association with the AppHarvest Foundation. With the help of the funding, the school is able to purchase a shipping container that has been modified with cutting-edge technology to serve as agricultural classrooms where students hydroponically grow vegetables like salad greens to give to their classmates and those in need in their neighborhoods.
“CEA is one of the industries with the quickest rate of growth, and Cowen is pleased to once more work in conjunction with the AppHarvest Foundation to enhance AgTech Education in Eastern Kentucky, first at Madison Southern High School and now at Rockcastle County High School. Innovative grassroots partnerships like this will support regional workforce development and job growth” said Cowen Chair and CEO Jeffrey M. Solomon.
The new 15-acre salad greens factory in Berea, Ohio, owned by AppHarvest, which will be used in the new “Queen of Greens®” washed-and-ready-to-eat packaged salad brand, is just 20 minutes away from the Rockcastle farm classroom. Late October saw the start of the first commercial exports from AppHarvest Berea.
“We are so appreciative to have partners like Cowen whose investment in Eastern Kentucky students will make a tangible difference in our region’s local communities,” said AppHarvest Foundation Director and AppHarvest Vice President of Community Outreach Amy Samples. “With the launch at Rockcastle County High School, we now have a full dozen farm classrooms teaching students the same high-tech, sustainable agricultural practices we apply in our own CEA facilities.”
The AppHarvest Foundation has established AgTech classrooms since 2018 at Carter G. Woodson Academy in Lexington, Madison Southern High School in Berea, Madison Central High School in Richmond, Breathitt High School in Jackson, Shelby Valley High School in Pikeville, Floyd County School of Innovation in Martin, Elliott County High School in Sandy Hook, Menifee County High School in Frenchburg, Johnson Central High School in Paintsville, and Fleming County High School in Flemin.
Matthew Whitaker, an agricultural education teacher at Rockcastle County High School, is in charge of the school’s new farm classroom and STEM-based AgTech curriculum, which covers subjects like advanced hydroponic growing, supply chain and food production analysis, and an introduction to local food systems.
“The hydroponic classroom allows students to experience a real life, a hands-on farming experience that supplements their traditional ag classes in a unique and engaging way,” said Whitaker. “Since the beginning of the school year, 35 students have been working in the farm each week and they’ve already harvested about 300 pounds of salad greens.”
A hydroponic growing system with effective LED lighting and a closed-loop irrigation system that is intended to use up to 90% less water than open-field agriculture without agricultural runoff allows student farmers to nurture up to 5,000 plants at once.
The 60-acre high-tech indoor farm in Morehead producing sustainably grown tomatoes, the 15-acre Berea salad greens facility, and the 30-acre Somerset berry facility are the three farms that send product to consumers across the country for AppHarvest. The 60-acre Richmond, Kentucky, tomato farm anticipates beginning its planting season in November.
Image provided by AppHarvest Foundation
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