By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian hydroponic producer and its US partner last night revealed they will invest $60m in developing a 71,000 square foot facility able to grow “300 times more food” than a traditional farm.
Eeden Farms, which launched last year using containerised farms in western New Providence, disclosed that the proposed Gladstone Road-based facility will employ up to 30 Bahamians and produce 1.4m pounds of greens and herbs annually using robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
The project was unveiled after Eeden Farms and its partner, 80 Acres Farms, gave Prime Minister Philip Davis and Clay Sweeting, minister of agriculture, marine resources and Family Island affairs, together with other officials, financiers and private sector representatives, a tour of the latter’s 70K Farm in Ohio.
No mention was made of how far the project has progressed in securing the necessary permits and approvals, or if it has identified and secured the land required for a venture to be known as Eeden Acres, but the two partners argued that it will make significant inroads into improving The Bahamas’ food security and ability to feed itself post-COVID when the farm opens by end-2023.
With the Gladstone Road facility to be based on the 70K farm, Eeden Farms and its principals said the joint venture - which will be majority Bahamian-owned - “will be the most advanced in the world of any of the 80 Acres farms to date, boasting the best AgTech (agriculture technology) from all around the globe under one roof.
“The farm will grow produce indoors without GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or pesticides, providing a healthy diet to Bahamians and visitors. Enabled with robotics and artificial intelligence, the farm will produce over 300 times more food than a traditional outdoor farm with 100 percent renewable energy and 97 percent less water,” the statement said.
Carlos Palacious, Eeden Farms’ co-founder, said: “80 Acres, which already supplies over 300 Kroger grocery stores successfully, has produced outstanding results with similar methods currently used by Eeden Farms, so this trip was designed to show leaders of the Bahamian agricultural sector what is possible as Eeden Farms evolves into Eeden Acres.”
Besides the Prime Minister and Mr Sweeting, others present on the Friday, January 21, tour included Philip Smith and Dion Smith, president and director of the Agricultural Development Committee; state government officials from Ohio; and private sector representatives such as Ryan Salame, chief executive of FTX Digital Markets, the crypto currency exchange that recently located in The Bahamas. Karen Casey, president of Sysco Bahamas, and Jerry Butler, vice-president of corporate and investment banking for the Caribbean, were also present.
Lincoln Deal, Eeden Farms’ co-founder, added: “I was first exposed to the concept of climate-controlled container farming in 2016. We had not yet experienced Dorian or a pandemic, but I imagined that this could be the answer to the food security for our nation, and now, four years later, I am even more excited about what the possibility of expanding Eeden Farms can mean for our nation.”
Eeden Farms’ statement added that its production target of two million pounds of greens and herbs per annum is equivalent to 10,000 acres of fully-used farmland. “By way of example, this is comparable to the entire Ragged Island being planted shore to shore,” it added.
A January 2022 document, explaining the rationale for the Gladstone Road project, said: “Food security is national security and the Bahamian government continues to be firm in its commitment and support of agricultural development and Bahamian-driven enterprise.
“To broaden the diversity and depth of agricultural offerings by investing in Bahamian food sustainability, Eeden Farms has expanded on its container farms business through its plans to establish a 71,000 square foot, world-class, robotics-enabled, and hurricane resilient hydroponic farm by the end of 2023 that will produce local food, from leafy greens and herbs to eventually tomatoes and berries.
“This privately-funded expansion, with a projected investment value of $60.3m,, will be known as Eeden Acres and is estimated to deliver approximately 1.4m pounds of clean and healthy produce to Bahamian communities, significantly reducing the $1bn food import bill and increasing money retained within the local economy.
“Going even further, by reducing food imports, a significant amount of energy and fuel shipping costs can be eliminated, having less impact on the environment, and greatly reducing our carbon footprint.”
Eeden Farms suggested that Bahamian investors may eventually be given a chance to hold an equity stake in the company, adding: “The company will dedicate a portion of its shareholdings for local general public participation through an investment fund, and a portion of its profits to philanthropic efforts.
“Our broad network provides astounding possibilities for our Bahamian-branded produce to be available abroad as well. In this way, The Bahamas is making strides to not only be a grower but exporter of produce – grown fresher in The Bahamas. We will not only lessen our produce imports from abroad but also bring currency into the Bahamas through exports.”
The hydroponic producer continued: “Eeden Acres is a circular economy applied to a food hub. This is the first fully sustainable, closed loop farming system in the world where we work with and buy from other Bahamian farmers to meet mutual needs. For instance, we intend on purchasing coconut husk currently discarded by coconut farmers to create organic seedling plugs.”
Mr Sweeting said: “The impact of this (Eeden Acres) is significant. We’ve seen devastating effects of climate change in many of our Family Islands, and many island farmers know the disappointment of failed harvests due to external factors.
“We intend to share the lessons learned by Eeden Acres with farmers of the nation, and thereby see an improvement in agriculture across the archipelago.” The Prime Minister himself added: “It is time that there is a paradigm shift in our pursuit of food security......
“The Bahamas is seeking to revolutionise the agricultural sector where our people will not only want to farm but see it as a means to keep our economy thriving.”