Breathitt students join AgTech farming, will feed the community

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JACKSON, Ky. (WTVQ) — AppHarvest and the United States Department of Agriculture announced the expansion of the company’s educational high-tech container farm
program for Eastern Kentucky high school students, unveiling a new container farm unit at Breathitt High School in Jackson.

The program demonstrates the company’s ongoing commitment to fostering interest in high-tech farming, as it seeks to create America’s AgTech capital from within Appalachia.

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The retrofitted shipping container will serve as a hands-on agricultural classroom for students at Breathitt High School, allowing them to grow and provide fresh leafy greens to their classmates and those in need in and around Jackson.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided the majority of funding for the unit through its Community Facilities grants program.

The educational container farm’s arrival was formally celebrated Friday, Jan. 15, with U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Hilda Legg and Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas among those attending.

Attendees toured the container farm and learned about its high-tech tools.

“This amazing project will not only put fresh vegetables on the table, but, more importantly, it will teach tomorrow’s agribusiness leaders — and do all of that right here in Eastern Kentucky,” Legg said. “This public-private partnership is exactly what we need more of, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

The container farm is 2,880 cubic feet, weighs 7.5 tons and includes space to grow up to 4,608 seedlings and 8,800 mature plants all at once using 440 vertical crop columns. The container’s unique design utilizes cutting-edge LED lighting and closed-loop irrigation systems to allow students to grow far more than traditional open-field agriculture.

For instance, they can grow up to 940 full heads of lettuce, or 1,570 miniature heads, per week, as part of a single crop.

“We are excited to partner with the USDA and AppHarvest to bring a new container farm to our students and community members of Breathitt County,” said Breathitt County Schools Superintendent Phillip Watts. “Our goal is to teach the students how to grow fresh vegetables and support the local food supply. The inspiration, excitement and innovation that AppHarvest brings to Eastern Kentucky is a blessing for our region.”

Breathitt High School Agriculture Educator Taylor Masters teaches more than 200 students, who will utilize the container farm as part of their studies. “Our students will now be able to work hands-on yearround and the food they grow will help our community in addressing food deserts,” she said.

The Breathitt County container farm joins AppHarvest’s inaugural container farm serving Pike County’s Shelby Valley High School students and its second unit at Rowan County Senior High School.

All three containers are part of AppHarvest’s high school AgTech program, which provides Kentucky students with hands-on experience growing leafy greens and other nutritious foods in a high-tech environment.

Leafy greens from the inaugural Shelby Valley High School program have fed the surrounding community through a backpack program and donations to a food pantry.

A similar food distribution program is planned for the Breathitt County container farm.

AppHarvest is an applied technology company building some of the world’s largest indoor farms in Appalachia. The company combines conventional agricultural techniques with cutting-edge technology and is addressing key issues including improving access for all to nutritious food, farming more sustainably, building a home-grown food supply, and increasing investment in Appalachia.

The company’s 60-acre Morehead, Ky. facility is among the largest indoor farms in the U.S.