Webb

AppHarvest Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb speaks during groundbreaking for the new facility located in Shopville.

Go back a few years and you could list a whole bunch of things you couldn't do indoors.

You didn't play football or baseball inside.

Well, with the advent of domed stadiums in the late '60s and early '70s, a torrential rainstorm wouldn't scrap a game of baseball. Yeah, the domes are a little passe' — but the new-fangled parks with retractable roofs still keep you dry.

You couldn't hike or ride a bicycle inside. But with new computerized gadgets on your treadmill or stationary bike, you can (almost) smell the grass on your virtual bike ride or jog.

You still can't fish or hunt in your living room.

And it would've been a stretch to envision growing fruits and vegetables inside. After all, you need acres of soil and a lot of water, right? And you can't grow tomatoes or strawberries in the dead of winter — not in eastern Kentucky.

Until now.

An amazing visionary named Jonathan Webb has flipped the script in the AgTech industry. The Kentucky native has taken a page from the Netherlands' playbook on controlled environment agriculture facilities and has applied it to the natural resources available here in eastern Kentucky.

The Netherlands is a small nation — about one-third the size of Kentucky. And although it might be best known for tulips and wooden shoes, the little bitty country is the second largest vegetable exporter in the world. Onions, potatoes and some southern climate vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and chilis are among its top-selling products.

With these amazing indoor growing facilities, the smallish Netherlands is feeding a whole lot of people.

Webb's AppHarvest is on the cusp of turning the commonwealth into a major player in food exports. Earlier this week, Webb had a ribbon-cutting for a 58-acre indoor growing facility in Morehead and then broke ground on a 30-acre facility in eastern Pulaski County that will primarily grow strawberries.

Congressman Hal Rogers is an idea man. But Webb's mind-boggling concept even had him in doubt several years ago at the initial SOAR conference.

"I was wondering if he was all there," Rogers said with a grin.

But the concept works. Tomatoes grown in the AppHarvest facility in Morehead have already made their way into grocery stores.

These days, Republicans and Democrats rarely agree on anything. But in eastern Kentucky, the bipartisan support for Webb's dream child is off the charts. In Shopville on Monday, Rogers, Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, State Sen. Rick Girdler and State Reps Shane Baker and David Meade (all Republicans) joined Gov. Andy Beshear and his Senior Advisor Rocky Adkins (both Democrats) to cheer on Webb and the mark he is making on our state.

Our local leaders, SPEDA, our state leaders and the federal government all agree that this is something game-changing for our region.

Why did Webb choose Kentucky to launch his multi-million dollar business?

Most of Appalachia is about a day’s drive from 70 percent of the U.S. population. That makes locales like Shopville, Ky., a perfect AgTech hub.

I can't explain the AgTech science to the tee, but in essence AppHarvest uses recycled rainwater to grow fruits and vegetables en masse — and the process virtually eliminates the use of chemicals.

Could Kentucky become one of the world's greatest exporters of fruits and veggies? Could we become the epicenter of an American AgTech revolution?

It certainly seems more than plausible.

We should be grateful that AppHarvest has found a home for one of its incredible facilities here in Pulaski County.

We are on the ground floor of something truly remarkable.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentuccky.com.

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