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Regional company transforms urban spaces into vertical farms

The urban agriculturalists at 80 Acres Farms are on a mission to convert city spaces into ultra-efficient, high-tech growing facilities. The ultimate goal: Fresh produce for everyone.

Last year, REDI Cincinnati helped the startup forge connections to secure a quarter-acre facility in Spring Grove Village. There, the team installed a vertical, hydroponic farm where they grow everything from micro-greens to eggplants for Clifton Market, Whole Foods and other clients.

The growers at 80 Acres rely on a proprietary soil-less, pesticide-free process that uses LED lighting — hence the pinkish glow — and 90 percent less water than traditional farming.

With a resume that features Sager Creek, AdvancePierre and ConAgra Brands, 80 Acres CEO Mike Zelkind has relied on vast experience in food production and delivery to expand quickly; the Greater Cincinnati headquarters represents one of five 80 Acres locations across the United States, and Zelkind’s team is in the process of fundraising to expand nationally and internationally.

The science itself is fairly new, but what’s truly revolutionary is 80 Acres’ ability to provide almost instant access to fresh produce. Typical produce can travel up to 1,500 miles to reach its destination, but the 80 Acres model offers farm-to-plate in a matter of hours or even minutes.

“We are growing where the people are, in a small amount of land, with a yield 100 times greater than a traditional farm,” says 80 Acres vice president of creative & marketing Becca Haders. “We are growing heirloom varieties, full of color and flavor, unlike most food grown today, that is bred to withstand unpredictable weather patterns and transportation.”

But the startup isn’t only interested in turning the food industry on its head. Their Spring Grove facility is also home to a public visitor center where they host cooking demonstrations by local chefs and workshops that teach school-age kids about photosynthesis and plant nutrition.

“Everyone talks about organic produce, but we’re growing food that’s better than organic,” Zelkind says. “There’s very little water or nutrient waste in our process, and the plants are grown free of contaminants that may exist in the soil. It’s consciously grown food that will connect a whole generation of kids and adults to food in a way they’ve never experienced before.”

Creating jobs is also high on the company’s list of priorities. Last June, 80 Acres once again partnered with REDI Cincinnati and others to secure a job creation tax credit from the City of Cincinnati. Since then, the company has been hiring across all levels, often directly from the surrounding neighborhood, affirming its commitment to “growing locally,” Haders says.

To learn more about how you can support the growing startup — and pick up delicious vegetables for your own table — check out our video and visit