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Can a shipping container encourage Lexington kids to ‘feed the world’? AppHarvest hopes so.

·4 min read

Lexington high school senior Anthony Jackson wants to study agriculture education in college, but first he intends to grow strawberries.

Jackson, Future Farmers of America President at Carter G. Woodson Academy, was elated that the applied technology company AppHarvest on Friday placed its first container farm in a metro area at his school.

“I want to teach people about agriculture and how to feed the world,” said Jackson. “That’s one of my passions.

Each retrofitted shipping container serves as a hands-on agricultural classroom for students where they grow fresh leafy greens to provide to their classmates and to those in need in their communities.

As the first AppHarvest container farm placed in a metro area, the Carter G. Woodson Academy container farm demonstrates the company’s goal to create urban-rural connections through agriculture, officials said.

“It’s a great opportunity to help minority kids get involved in the agriculture field,” said Jackson, who plans to attend Kentucky State University.

Ramel Bradley, a former University of Kentucky basketball player and now community director for AppHarvest, told students he was proud of them as the container farm was introduced at the Frederick Douglass High School campus, where the Woodson Academy is located.

Gov. Andy Beshear, Congressman Andy Barr, Fayette County Superintendent Demetrus Liggins, Senior Adviser to Beshear Rocky Adkins and AppHarvest Founder & CEO Jonathan Webb also were there as the container was opened.

The Carter G. Woodson Academy container farm can grow up to 2,760 seedlings and 2,960 mature plants at a time through a nutrient film technique, or NFT, system, equivalent to yields from about 3-5 acres of open-field agriculture. The NFT saves water as plant roots are continuously fed all necessary water and nutrients in a shallow stream and recirculates any excess water back through the system.

“Students who work in this container farm are going to work in the most technologically advanced classroom in the United States on agriculture technology,” Beshear told a crowd of students who wore masks at the outdoor event. “I’m thrilled at what this means for you.”

The Academy is an all-male college prep program that offers a rigorous curriculum through the lens of Black history.

“AppHarvest has been an incredible partner to Team Kentucky because its leaders share so many of our values: putting education first by investing in our students’ potential, building a better Kentucky for all of our families with innovative new jobs and technology and ensuring our state remains an agricultural leader through the next generation of farming, and the next,” Beshear said in a news release.

Launched in 2018, the AppHarvest AgTech Educational Outreach Program demonstrates the company’s ongoing commitment to developing the next generation of farmers as it works to build America’sAgTech capital in Appalachia, officials said.

“We started the AppHarvest AgTech Educational Outreach Program before construction even began on our 60-acre farm in Morehead. That’s the value we place on growing the next generation of farmers and on investing in communities,” Jonathan Webb, AppHarvest Founder and CEO said in a news release. “Five years from now, it’ll be leaders from these very programs and schools coming to us with ideas about how we continue to improve agriculture sustainably.”

AppHarvest has opened container farms in Central and Eastern Kentucky at Madison Central High School in Richmond; Breathitt High School in Jackson; Shelby Valley High School in Pikeville; Elliott County HighSchool in Sandy Hook; and Rowan County Senior High School in Morehead, the site of AppHarvest’s flagship farm.

The Carter G. Woodson Academy container farm is the third addition to AppHarvest’s program in 2021 and the company’s sixth educational container farm.

“You all represent the future of agriculture to embrace this kind of an innovative program,” Barr told the students.

Carter G. Woodson Academy’s agricultural teacher Jacob Ball will lead the new container farm program. It includes curriculum focused high-tech growing and an introduction to local food systems and food resiliency.

“The buzz and excitement around launching this program has been immense, and I cannot wait for our scholars to apply what they are learning in the classroom to produce a tangible product to impact the school and community,” said Ball. “We’re hopeful this project will spark an interest and drive them to be the next generation of agricultural scientists that will help feed the world.”

Also on Friday, Beshear discussed $10 million in funding for renovations at the former Herald-Leader building at 100 Midland Avenue. The building will become the Fayette County Vocational Education Center.

At a Sept. 13 school board planning meeting, Fayette district chief operating officer Myron Thompson said Fayette County Schools would get a $10 million grant approved by the Kentucky School Facilities Construction Commission Board for the renovation. Construction bids could open up next summer.

Without the grant, Thompson said, the district might have had to wait three or four years to start renovations on the building. The district purchased the building more than a year ago to combine the existing Eastside and Southside career and technical centers.

“Every student that comes through here...is going to have an opportunity for a good paying job,” said Beshear.

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