Pittsburgh-based Fifth Season plans to open a second vertical farm about three hours west in Columbus, Ohio, on property near the John Glenn International Airport, the company announced.
Fifth Season grows 11 SKUs of leafy greens, herbs, salad kits and two co-branded products with Sabra hummus. The salad kits, a major focus for the company, are currently sold in over 1,000 Kroger, Giant Eagle, Wakefern and Shopright locations in 12 states.
“I believe robotics will positively disrupt every industry in the world,” said Austin Webb, CEO of Fifth Season. “Vertical farming can be a solution that can solve multiple problems at the same time. We want to create a whole new fresh food chain – an entirely new ecosystem around what fresh food should taste like and let’s make it easier and more convenient.”
CEA – controlled environment agriculture – takes the unknowns of traditional farming like weather conditions and rainfall out the equation but it can be difficult from an economic stand point. Coupled with Fifth Season’s propriety software and algorithms, the farming operation is largely autonomous.
“We can control the environment at all times – air temp, humidity, nutrient cycles, nutrient mix and of course also light schedules – literally everything can be controlled if you do it right. But we realized the entire platform needed to be changed and create a new operational playbook,” Webb said.
Founded in 2016, Fifth Season’s first vertical farm is located in a former warehouse in Braddock, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The planned 180,000-square-foot Columbus location will be nearly three times the size of the Pennsylvania farm and is expected to be operational in 2023, Webb said.
“We’re coming to Columbus because it’s a really great forward operating base for us. Over half of the U.S. population is within a 10-hour drive. It’s a wonderful place for us to expand the distribution,” Webb said.
The company employs about 100 people total but the actual growing operation is nimble, relying partially on a grow management system to dictate planting cycles. Crops range from 14-to 28-day growth cycles, allowing consumers to have access to fresh, local produce regardless of the season.
“Our entire (Pennsylvania) facility runs on about 20 production staff, it’s entirely run by our proprietary system,” Webb said. “No one goes in and says ‘Let’s start with spinach today because that’s what I feel like.’ We essentially turned a vertical farm into a smart manufacturing platform that just happens to manufacture living organisms.”
The Columbus location will be a new building and the company plans to use the blueprints to standardize future farm designs. The Columbus farm will prioritize renewable solar energy and leverage an onsite microgrid, the company said.
"Thanks to our modular design, no software work is needed to integrate bots into the new facility, they just start working together in their new configuration," said Brac Webb, Fifth Season CTO. "At the Braddock farm, we have just over 100 instances of our bots in use, and at the future Columbus farm we plan to have around 250 instances."
Fifth Season forecasts 600% sales growth this year.