Kent to get large, indoor organic produce farm

Once known decades ago for its many fields of greens as the “Lettuce Capital of the World,” Kent’s about to get its first large indoor organic produce farm.

Plenty, a San Francisco-based firm whose investors include Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com and Kent’s Blue Origin aerospace manufacturer, announced plans this month to open a 100,000-square-foot facility next year near the Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service site along 84th Avenue South.

“Seattle’s emphasis on delicious, healthy food and energy and water efficiency makes the area a natural fit for our next Plenty farm,” said Matt Barnard, CEO and co-founder of Plenty, in a media release. “At nearly 100,000 square feet, Seattle will be home to our first full-scale farm and help set the standard by which our global farm network makes locally grown, backyard-quality produce accessible to everyone. We’re excited about what’s next and look forward to building the Seattle team.”

Plenty’s farm is expected to open in the first half of next year with about 50 employees, including indoor farming engineers, organic growers and operations experts. Produce grown will be available to Seattle and Vancouver British Columbia area consumers beginning in mid-2018.

“This is a grow we can all get behind,” Ben Wolters, city economic and community development director, said to the City Council at its Tuesday meeting, in reference to the city’s ban against marijuana businesses. “They grow organic produce with LED lights, and yield 350 times what a field of similar size would produce.”

The indoor farm will produce about 4.5 million pounds of greens annually and grow 300 types of produce year-round, Wolters said.

The location near Amazon Fresh, which opened its Kent warehouse this year, makes for a natural connection.

“The idea is Amazon Fresh will buy from here and then ship it out as part of your order,” Wolters said. “They can harvest produce within hours of your order.”

As the amount of domestic acreage that produces affordable fresh fruit and vegetables shrinks while labor and land costs sustain their perpetual rise, Plenty’s expansion is critical to making local, hyper-fresh and organic produce available and affordable for people everywhere, company officials said.

Plenty’s farms, which the company is developing in or near communities around the world, will deliver industry-leading yields of local, backyard-quality produce that’s completely GMO and pesticide-free, while remaking agriculture to be both predictable and perpetual given the demands of 7.3 billion people worldwide. Plenty officials say the farms give plants the perfect environment for amazing flavor, use 1 percent of the water and a tiny fraction of the land of conventional agriculture.

The company’s first field-scale farm is in South San Francisco and will start delivering produce to local Bay Area customers within hours of harvest by the end of this year.

“It’s very cutting edge, and the technical and business magazines are covering it,” Wolters said. “It highlights Kent where innovation and opportunity can thrive.”

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