Beanstalk Farms, Fairfax County

Beanstalk Farms, Fairfax County

Agriculture is Virginia's oldest, largest private industry. The farming of cash crops in the Commonwealth dates back to the early 17th century, when tobacco farming helped John Rolfe and his fellow settlers establish a stable colony at Jamestown and ultimately make Virginia the largest and richest of the initial 13 colonies.

Four centuries later, Virginia is again at the forefront of agricultural innovation. The Commonwealth has become a hotbed for operations capitalizing on the latest in food production technology. Virginia is drawing investment from companies producing fresh, sustainable, locally grown foods utilizing the latest, most advanced agricultural technology available, such as hydroponic, aeroponic, vertical, and other indoor systems, collectively known as controlled environment agriculture (CEA).

In addition to their investments in Virginia’s communities, CEA companies are working to advance sustainable production techniques by curbing energy consumption and resource use while providing fresher produce for communities both within the Commonwealth and beyond.

The Land of Plenty

The latest major CEA operator to choose Virginia is California-based Plenty Unlimited Inc., currently in the process of building what will be the world’s largest indoor farming campus at Meadowville Technology Park in Chesterfield County, just outside Richmond. Plenty CEO Arama Kukutai said the facility will “raise the bar on what indoor vertical farming can deliver.”

The Virginia advantage for CEA companies starts with a favorable location within a two-day drive of three-quarters of the U.S. population — far closer than traditional American farming hotspots in the Midwest and California’s Central Valley. Along with that location, Virginia offers a business climate regularly ranked as one of the nation’s best, buoyed by strong economic incentives and a tech-savvy talent pool graduating from the Commonwealth’s top-notch colleges and universities each year. That combination was enough to lure Plenty to Virginia, along with AeroFarms, another industry leader that had previously built a record-setting vertical farm in the Commonwealth.

Last year, New Jersey-based AeroFarms was listed among Fortune’s “Change the World” list of companies that have had a positive social impact through their core business activities. After an extensive site search along the East Coast, AeroFarms selected Cane Creek Industrial Park, jointly owned by the city of Danville and Pittsylvania County, to locate its largest, most sophisticated farm to date. Last year, the company announced an expansion to the facility that received a second round of support from Virginia’s Agriculture & Forestry Initiatives Development Fund (AFID), a 10-year-old program aimed at spurring growth in the Commonwealth’s agriculture and forestry sectors.

The scale and sophistication of what we’re building here in Virginia will make it possible to economically grow a variety of produce with superior quality and flavor.

Arama Kukutai CEO, Plenty Unlimited Inc.

Virginia’s business friendliness played a major role in landing the facility. As AeroFarms Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oshima said, “The state and Southern Virginia’s commitment to our sector is also a contributing factor as we’re able to attract the talent and resources needed to operate our facilities...One of the main challenges with a capital-intensive business like vertical farming is the associated taxes assessed on tangible personal property. The abatements offered by the local jurisdiction provided the assurance that we were not going to be taxed out of having a competitive project in Virginia.” 

Virginia’s talent and research infrastructure is also attractive to CEA companies. AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg cited the nearby Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) as a potential collaborator in the company’s efforts to use technology to solve supply chain issues in agriculture. In 2020, shortly after the announcement of the AeroFarms facility, IALR announced a partnership with Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center to launch the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center on its campus. 

AeroFarms, Pittsylvania

AeroFarms, Pittsylvania County

Homegrown Success Stories

Virginia’s higher education system also played a key role in establishing Beanstalk Farms in Fairfax County — Chief Technology Officer Jack Ross is a Northern Virginia native who graduated from the University of Virginia (UVA). The Commonwealth’s economic infrastructure and the university-based, tech-forward talent pool played a major role in the company’s founding.

The company has a connection to another high-tech Virginia industry. Its Fairfax farm is housed in a former data center building in the town of Herndon. And like Plenty and AeroFarms, Beanstalk received an AFID grant to defray facilities costs.

“I knew that we would be able to tap into the state’s talented workforce, world-class universities, and supportive business environment to build something truly special,” Ross said.

Beanstalk carved out its niche in vertical soil-based production technology, rather than the soil-less aeroponic systems AeroFarms is known for. Research coming from UVA and Virginia’s other top universities helped the company fine-tune its technology.

“Virginia has a unique set of resources,” Ross said. “The support from research universities like the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech has helped us improve our soil-based growing method and enabled us to have the highest-quality heirloom produce.”

Like Beanstalk, Babylon Micro-Farms was founded by UVA graduates, and the company fine-tuned its products and techniques at the i.Lab incubator housed in the university’s Darden School of Business. Now based in Richmond, Babylon uses hydroponic techniques to grow nutritious produce, managed through cloud technology. The company’s miniature vertical hydroponic farms have been installed in hospitals, hotels, and senior communities to provide fresh produce for residents and restaurants. It’s a twist on one of the main selling points for vertical farming — vertical facilities can help bring fresh produce to a wide array of locations without the large physical footprint of a traditional farm.

Babylon Micro-Farms, MSC World Europa

Babylon Micro-Farms, MSC World Europa

In 2022, MSC Cruises installed a Babylon garden on its ship, the MSC World Europa, to provide herbs, greens, and garnishes for the Chef ’s Garden Kitchen, a collaboration with Michelin-starred chef Niklas Ekstedt, billed as the world’s first at-sea hydroponic micro-farm. Babylon CEO Alexander Olesen said, “On-site micro-farms are going to be an important part of the supply chain for fresh ingredients, and it’s exciting to push the boundaries of local food production with this world-first installation on the high seas.”

Traditional Farmers Find CEA Success

Long before some of these companies were founded, one group set the pace for Virginia’s CEA industry: Soli Organic, formerly Shenandoah Growers. Under its former name, Soli was a classic outdoor agricultural field production business. Then, keeping up with industry trends, the company expanded into indoor farming and CEA.

Soli CEO Matthew Ryan cited Virginia’s location as a draw in establishing facilities in the Commonwealth, citing the ability to provide “efficient service to our growing customer base throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.” 

Soli is the country’s leading grower of fresh organic culinary herbs. If you’ve seen potted herb plants for sale in your local grocery store, there’s a good chance they’re Soli products. The company’s 2021 rebranding reflects that market space and the techniques the company uses. “Soli” is derived from the Latin word for “soil,” which most indoor growers don’t use, relying instead on hydroponic methods. Soli’s use of soil allows for the shipment of living herbs to retailers, but its innovations go beyond growing techniques.

Soli runs its own refrigerated transportation service that enables the company to ship living plants across the country. The company’s trucks enable herbs that require different temperatures to be shipped on the same truck, enhancing shelf life. 

CEA practitioners are drawn to Virginia’s advantageous location, top-notch business climate and incentives, and the talent, research, and resources coming out of the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities. Virginia is poised to help companies like Plenty, AeroFarms, Beanstalk, Babylon Micro-Farms, and Soli Organics make vital advancements in feeding the United States and the world.

Suggested Reading

Plenty Unlimited Inc.'s facility in Compton, California

Cultivating the World’s Growth

Second Quarter 2023

The most advanced Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) operations are fully automated systems that deliver the exact environmental conditions required by specific plants, including the optimum temperature, humidity, and light levels. CEA operations can grow large amounts of produce while using significantly less water and land and eliminating the need for certain pesticides and fertilizers. VEDP spoke with CEOs from major CEA companies on how technological advancements will affect the future of the agriculture industry in Virginia and beyond.

Read More
Rappahannock Oyster Co. Middlesex County

Aquaculture Companies Seek Profitability Through Sustainability

Second Quarter 2023

As traditional methods of harvesting oysters started flailing, a family business turned toward innovative aquaculture to rebound oyster populations. 

Read More


Jasjit Singh

Key Factors in FDI Decisions: A Conversation With Jasjit Singh

March 29, 2024

Executive Director, SelectUSA

Alexander Yui

Perpetuating a Rock-Solid Relationship: A Conversation With Ambassador Alexander Yui

March 29, 2024

Representative to the United States, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office

View All Podcasts