Pikeville, KY. – Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) joined a delegation of higher education, economic development, and government leaders to the Netherlands in early February.
The trip was coordinated by AppHarvest, which is building a massive 60-acre high-tech greenhouse in Morehead, Ky. AppHarvest has worked closely with officials throughout the Netherlands as it builds out its facility and begins to align a comprehensive ecosystem to support high-tech agriculture across Appalachia Kentucky.
Joshua Ball, associate executive director of SOAR, was part of the Kentucky delegation, which visited more than 20 sites during the week-long trip.
“Reading about the high-tech agriculture industry in the Netherlands and seeing it first-hand are totally different,” said Ball. “What we witnessed were not just greenhouses but a detailed strategy to support such an industry from logistics, to engineering, artificial intelligence, and many other moving parts.”
The Netherlands has the landmass of the portion of Appalachia Kentucky south of Interstate 64 and east of Interstate 75. With one-third of that landmass under sea level, the country is the second-largest agriculture exporter in the world behind the United States.
Ball noted some distinct similarities to Appalachia Kentucky on the trip. The most poignant was a day spent in Venlo, a city of 100,000 people near the border of Germany. Venlo is a part of Limburg, representing 12 provinces in the southernmost part of the Netherlands. At one point in the 1950s, 55,000 people were employed in the mining industry. At its peak in the 1960s, 70% of all employment in Limburg was directly tied to the mining industry. By 1976, 45,000 people in the mining industry lost their jobs and unemployment rose to record highs.
“What happened in Limburg has many similarities to Appalachia Kentucky,” Ball explained. “Instead of giving up, cross-sector collaborations took root and began to diversify their economy. The same logistical infrastructure that hauled coal and other minerals were now connecting many parts of Europe with goods, primarily fruits and vegetables.”
AppHarvest’s call to action is to make Appalachia Kentucky the high-tech agriculture capitol of America. Part of that strategy is leveraging Appalachia Kentucky’s prime location to nearly two-thirds of the country’s population within one day’s drive.
Ball joined other leaders from across Kentucky, including: Bob Helton, Morehead Rowan County Economic Development Council; Hilda Legg, state director for USDA Rural Development; Greg Russell, Morehead State University; Dr. Burton Webb, president of the University of Pikeville, Byron Meade, professor of Biology at the University of Pikeville; Mark Williams, chair of horticulture at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; Cody Domenghini, professor of agriculture at Eastern Kentucky University; Carla Hagan, professor of agriculture at Eastern Kentucky University; Janey Meyer, farm manager at Berea College; and Dr. Scott Steele, dean of curriculum at Berea college.