Large hydroponic greenhouse coming to Virginia Beach to create 155 new jobs focusing on underserved communities

Virginia Beach

Lettuce growing on hydroponic ponds are seen at a greenhouse farm in Banda Aceh on February 20, 2021. (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP) (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP via Getty Images)

VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) — With some coincidental timing, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that a large hydroponic farming company will plant roots in Virginia Beach.

Sunny Farms, LLC will invest $59.6 million into the “state-of-the-art” facility at Taylor Farms on Dam Neck Road, creating 155 jobs in the process. Northam’s office says the site will also house One Matters Inc., a new 501(c)(3), nonprofit that will offer workforce development opportunities for underserved populations, including veterans.

The facility will come together over 3 phases in 36 months, starting with a 120,000-square-foot greenhouse focused on lettuce and other leafy greens in phase 1. That’s about 3 acres at first.

The second phase will expand the facility to 640,000 square feet (16 acres), and the last phase will grow it to 1.2 million square feet (32 acres) in total, with the ability to grow other vegetables in addition to leafy greens. Northam’s office didn’t say when construction would begin.

“Securing this impactful new project is a reflection of our Commonwealth’s commitment to supporting innovative companies like Sunny Farms that are pushing boundaries in agricultural development,” Northam said in a press release. “Together with One Matters and our higher education institutions, we are laying the foundation for significant long-term economic and workforce opportunities that will help lift up underserved Virginians in Hampton Roads. I commend all partners involved in making this announcement a reality and am confident Sunny Farms will grow and thrive at its home in Virginia Beach.” 

Northam’s office says Virginia beat out Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina for the project.

The co-founder of Sunny Farms, Jim Arnhold, grew up in the area.

“Raised in the rural farming community of Pungo, my roots run deep in this area,” Arnold said. “Virginia Beach is our home—we understand the people, the market, and the opportunity presented in locating a large-scale hydroponic farm facility within Virginia’s most populated city. Farm-to-table has never been a shorter journey. As a long-term member of the real estate and development community, I’ve witnessed the erosion of crop and food production within Virginia Beach. Sunny Farms’ highly productive and clean growing initiative makes sense for our area, and we’re proud to be leading the way.”

Arnhold and his partner Wayne Zinn have been worked with the School of Plant and Environmental Science at Virginia Tech for the last two years to help develop the greenhouse technology, which uses Controlled Environmental Agriculture (CEA).

“We also appreciate the educational partnerships presented by Virginia Tech and Virginia’s Community College System,” Zinn said. “It’s a reciprocal relationship. Our workforce will benefit from the specialized hydroponic farming curriculums these institutions will offer, and our farm will serve as a hands-on classroom for students. As an outreach to the veteran community, this training curriculum will also benefit the men and women who participate in One Matters programming, which will take place onsite. As veterans, Jim and I are delighted to launch this mission-minded project here in Virginia Beach.” 

Northam approved a $600,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund for the project, which also got a $100,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. The company’s also eligible to receive benefits from the Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for new, full-time jobs created.

“Agriculture is integral to the DNA of Virginia Beach, so adding this new hydroponic greenhouse operation is a natural fit that will bring exciting benefits in addition to the food production capabilities,” said Virginia Beach Mayor Robert M. ‘Bobby’ Dyer. “The research that will be done in collaboration with Virginia Tech and the focus on workforce development opportunities, especially for veterans and people with disabilities, are thoughtful and creative ways Sunny Farms is expanding the impact of this investment.” 

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