Kentucky-based indoor farming startup AppHarvest is shipping out its first sustainably-grown batch of tomatoes to some of the biggest grocery chains in America this week.
The news sent shares of the company ($NOVS) soaring on Tuesday as it closed nearly 13 percent higher.
Earlier this month, the stock initially popped when it was announced that Impossible Foods CFO David Lee was joining the company as AppHarvest's newly-formed role of President. Lee explained to Cheddar how AppHarvest's eccentric founder and CEO Jonathan Webb pulled him away from the exciting plant-based meat juggernaut.
"There's no more powerful entrepreneur than Jonathan," Lee said. "He's quite persuasive."
Before helping launch Impossible Foods in 2015, Lee's career included stops at Zynga, Best Buy, and at Del Monte Foods for nearly nine years as senior vice president of consumer products. Lee pointed to his time at Del Monte and Impossible Foods as critical to the role he will assume at AppHarvest.
"I've long believed that if you combine technology, a consumer brand, and access to the best investors, you can change the world," Lee said. "That consumers will determine the future for the better."
That's exactly what AppHarvest is trying to do, according to Jonathan Webb.
"We're building some of the world's largest controlled environment agriculture facilities to grow fruits and vegetables," he explained.
AppHarvest's new facility in Kentucky operates entirely on recycled rainwater, and its controlled environment results in predictable yields that Webb said are 30 times what the typical farm could grow with the same acreage. He added that this tremendous multiple is also accomplished with 90 percent less water.
The company is hoping to be operating 12 different facilities in the region, which is experiencing record rainfall, by 2025.
AppHarvest is shipping its first batch of tomatoes to massive grocery chains like Walmart, Kroger, and Publix.
"Over the next decade there's a long conversation to be had on how we're gonna feed this world and what are the best ways to do it," Webb said. "We hope we're one example of many on what agriculture can be over the next decade."
While AppHarvest is starting out with tomatoes, the company's leadership holds no secrets about its international ambitions.
"I'm here to help [Webb] take his incredible mission and company and turn it into a real at-scale global force for good," Lee said. "That's the goal."
Beyond the opportunities for growth, AppHarvest is pushing for a reckoning with how farmworkers are treated on a humanitarian level, advocating for a living wage and full healthcare coverage.
"There's a lot of work to rebuild and reshape American agriculture. It's absolutely important that our regulators in DC be mindful of policies that put people and planet first," Webb explained. "But right now… we're focused on growing the tastiest tomatoes in the world."