Governor Ralph Northam announced that startup company Sunny Farms, LLC will invest $59.6 million to establish a state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse for production, workforce development, and research in the City of Virginia Beach. The company’s location at Taylor Farms will also house One Matters Inc., a new 501(c)(3), not-for-profit entity that will offer workforce development opportunities for underserved populations. Virginia successfully competed with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina for the project, which will create 155 new jobs.
For more than two years, Sunny Farms’ founders Jim Arnhold and Wayne Zinn have been working closely with the School of Plant and Environmental Science at Virginia Tech, as well as industry experts, to develop the company’s state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse. Sunny Farms will grow its products using Controlled Environmental Agriculture (CEA), an advanced method of hydroponic agriculture where plants are grown within a controlled environment to optimize horticultural practices. The greenhouse production system will be sourced from Prins-USA, a Virginia-based company.
“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,” said Governor Northam. “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.”
“Sunny Farms has impressive plans for its greenhouse in the City of Virginia Beach to become one of the largest operations of its kind on the East Coast, enabling the company to provide high-quality, fresh products to more people,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “Sunny Farms and One Matters are also committed to strengthening workforce development, and we look forward to building a strong partnership.”
“I am pleased to see another major project continuing the technology-driven expansion of Virginia’s largest private sector industry, agriculture, while also building our most important economic development resource, our workforce,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “Through a partnership with our higher education institutions to train the next generation of CEA employees, Sunny Farms will use state-of-the-art technology to provide fresh, Virginia-grown produce year-round, while also creating meaningful employment opportunities for veterans and underserved populations in agriculture and technology.”
Sunny Farms will establish its growing, cleaning, and packaging operation in three phases over 36 months. The company will construct a 120,000-square-foot greenhouse (three acres under glass) with production focused on lettuce and other leafy greens in its first phase. Phase two will expand the facility to 640,000 square feet (16 acres), and phase three will complete the facility at 1.2 million square feet (32 acres) total with capacity for leafy greens and a variety of vegetables. Upon completion, this facility will be one of the largest greenhouses on the East Coast.
“Raised in the rural farming community of Pungo, my roots run deep in this area,” said Jim Arnhold, Cofounder of Sunny Farms. “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.”
“We also appreciate the educational partnerships presented by Virginia Tech and Virginia’s Community College System,” said Wayne Zinn, Arnhold’s partner. “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.”
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) worked with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, City of Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads Alliance, and Virginia Tech to secure the project for Virginia. Governor Northam approved a $600,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and a $100,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund to assist the City of Virginia Beach with the project. The company is eligible to receive benefits from the Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for new, full-time jobs created.
Support for Sunny Farms’ job creation will be provided through the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a workforce initiative created by VEDP in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education partners, with funding support from the Northam administration and the Virginia General Assembly. Launched in 2019, the program accelerates new facility start-ups through the direct delivery of recruitment and training services that are fully customized to a company’s unique products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture. All program services are provided at no cost to qualified new and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation.
“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.”
“We are excited to have Sunny Farms joining the established food and beverage processing industry cluster found here in the 757 and look forward to seeing them grow in the region,” said Doug Smith, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Alliance. “Sunny Farms’ innovative approach to hydroponic agriculture, in collaboration with industry experts and higher education institutes, makes this a unique and promising opportunity for Hampton Roads.”
“The economic, social, and workforce development opportunities created by this venture will benefit our city for many years, and I am grateful to Sunny Farms for selecting Virginia Beach to call home,” said Senator Bill DeSteph. “The company’s decision to invest in Virginia Beach is a testament to the strong economic environment we have created in Hampton Roads and across the Commonwealth. I look forward to more good news from Sunny Farms as the company enriches our community.”