Climate Positive

Jonathan Webb | Reinventing farming on a changing planet

Episode Summary

In this episode, we speak with Jonathan Webb, Founder and CEO of AppHarvest. AppHarvest, which went public in 2021, is building some of the largest indoor farms in the world, combining conventional agricultural techniques with today’s technology to grow non-GMO, chemical-free produce to be sold to the top 25 U.S. grocers. The company’s first controlled-environment agriculture facility, opened in 2020 in Morehead, Ky., spans 60 acres. It uses 90% less water than a typical farm because of a sophisticated circular irrigation system and 10-acre rainwater retention pond. In conversation with Gil and Chad, Jonathan talked about the unique aspects of AppHarvest’s business, his personal journey in starting the company, the parallels of ag-tech with the solar revolution, the specific advantages of Controlled Environment Agriculture, what it’s like to experience rapid growth while maintaining a culture of excellence, how ESG drives their business, and much more. We hope you enjoy this spirited conversation with a passionate climate solutions entrepreneur as much as we did.

Episode Notes

In this episode, we speak with Jonathan Webb, Founder and CEO of AppHarvest.

AppHarvest, which went public in 2021, is building some of the largest indoor farms in the world, combining conventional agricultural techniques with today’s technology to grow non-GMO, chemical-free produce to be sold to the top 25 U.S. grocers. The company’s first controlled-environment agriculture facility, opened in 2020 in Morehead, Ky., spans 60 acres. It uses 90% less water than a typical farm because of a sophisticated circular irrigation system and 10-acre rainwater retention pond.

In conversation with Gil and Chad, Jonathan talked about the unique aspects of AppHarvest’s business, his personal journey in starting the company, the parallels of ag-tech with the solar revolution, the specific advantages of Controlled Environment Agriculture, what it’s like to experience rapid growth while maintaining a culture of excellence, how ESG drives their business, and much more. We hope you enjoy this spirited conversation with a passionate climate solutions entrepreneur as much as we did.


Jonathan Webb LinkedIn

Jonathan Webb Twitter

AppHarvest Twitter

AppHarvest Website

AppHarvest 2020 ESG Report

Article: Is This Giant Greenhouse in Kentucky the Future of Farming? (Rolling Stone, August 22, 2021)

Article: Martha Stewart’s recipes using AppHarvest tomatoes

Episode Transcription


Jonathan Webb: We have to turn the ESG story and to what's been the last 10 years of we're on the fringe, it's nice, oh it's good. How do you value good? No, it's not that, it's good business. If you're not thinking through these problems, you're not looking out for your shareholders to best utilize your capital and get a lower cost and give the consumer a product they can afford. 

Chad Reed: Welcome to the ninth episode of Climate Positive, a podcast produced by Hannon Armstrong, a leading investor in climate solutions. I'm Chad Reed.

Hilary Langer: I'm Hilary Langer.

Gil Jenkins: I’m Gil Jenkins.

Chad: In this series, we host candid conversations with the leaders, innovators, and changemakers driving a climate positive future

In this episode, we speak with Jonathan Webb, Founder and CEO of AppHarvest.

AppHarvest, which went public in 2021 is building some of the largest indoor farms in the world, combining conventional agricultural techniques with today’s technology to grow non-GMO, chemical-free produce to be sold to the top 25 U.S. grocers. The company’s first controlled-environment agriculture facility, which opened in 2020 in Morehead, Ky. spans 60 acres. It’s uses 90% less water than a typical farm because of a sophisticated circular irrigation system and 10-acre rainwater retention pond.

In today’s conversation, Jonathan discusses the unique aspects of AppHarvest’s business, his personal journey in starting the company, the parallels of ag tech with the solar revolution, the specific advantages Controlled Environment Agriculture, what it’s like to experience rapid growth while maintaining a culture of excellence, how ESG drives their business, and a whole lot more. 

We hope you enjoy this spirited conversation with a passionate climate solutions entrepreneur as much as we did. He is leading a truly purpose driven company focused on reinventing farming for a changing planet. 

….With that, here is Gil Jenkins and me in conversation with Jonathan Webb. 


Gil: Jonathan, welcome to Climate Positive. We're honored to have you here.

Jonathan: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Gil: For our listeners who may not be following the AgTech space that closely, could you give us a sense of the AppHarvest business, what you're trying to accomplish, and could you also give us a sense of your background, your own personal journey in starting the company?

Jonathan: Well, once again, thank you for having me. These discussions are important. I'm going to start and then get to that with this morning, I was just reading the reports that came out where there was a study of 10,000 young people that had been interviewed in 10 different countries, and 56% of those young people said they're deeply concerned about the future, based on the climate disruption that continues to unfold in front of their eyes.

We at AppHarvest, we're focused on food and agriculture. You look at basic pillars of human life, and its water, its energy, and its food, and if you don't have those, you don't have a society. They're not nice to have, they're absolute essential basic necessities that we must all ensure and protect.

What does AppHarvest do? We're a controlled environment agriculture company, we use technology to grow a fruit and vegetable with 90% less water, get 30 times more yield per acre, get the harsh chemical pesticides out of the growing practice, and we do it with people. We tried to say put people and planet first.

Our employees, we're very proud of, everybody makes a living wage. Everybody has full health care, and everybody has equity in the company. It's not just what we're doing, it's how we're doing it with our people, and then ultimately where we're doing it. I'm sitting in Kentucky right now, it was one of the largest coal-producing states in the US. Most all the coal mines have shut down in Central Appalachia, and we're building this organization in the heart of Central Appalachia where we have-- it's actually raining outside right now. We've had record amounts of rainfall over the last decade. You see California drying up, the southwest of the US running out of water. We're building facilities to grow fruit and vegetable, get it to the East Coast, Midwest, Southeast in a day drive, and do it here where we have a great workforce and tons of rainwater we can use to supply our facilities.

Chad: What are the specific advantages of CEA over traditional soil-based farming? Could you walk us through those top-line benefits?

Jonathan: To be abundantly clear, the best way to grow a plant is in good soil with good water and use the sun and use nature. We try to say here at AppHarvest, that the best technology on planet Earth is the planet Earth, and the most complex technology is that biomatter on planet Earth. The problem is, we've destroyed our planet to a point to where it's almost becoming impossible to predict yields and farm outside and feed 8-9 billion people 10, 20, 30 years from now. Agriculture is incredibly complex. There's great ways to do it outdoors.

I'm a big fan of Wendell Berry here in Kentucky. I'm a big fan of the four-season organic farmers that rotate their crops and regenerative ag. The problem that farmers are facing is, we talk about extractive industries. I'm sitting where the fossil fuel industry and the coal industry got completely dismantled. My career was in wind and solar. I really saw it on both sides, but we're so simplistic, and our viewpoints of extractive industries. We're also extracting nutrients out of the ground at a rate that are not being replenished. We're also extracting water out of freshwater reservoirs and rivers that are not being replenished. Those need to be categories that are also extractive. We figure out again, how are we building systems to maintain the current level of supply while extracting?

Again, it's not us verse soil, it's us verse people who farm with harsh chemical pesticides that degrade the soil and kill all the nutrients. It's us versus people that use child labor and open field farming. In 2021, anywhere on planet Earth, I would like to think everybody deserves to make a living wage if you work on a farm. There are organic farmers, there are four season farmers, there are regenerative farmers that are working tirelessly to do it right.

The problem is the few and far between, and the larger farming that we know of. It's a scorched earth approach with short-term goals and short term incentives, and no one's asking the what-if question. What if the Colorado River runs out? What if we deplete all the freshwater reservoirs in California? What if we extract the nutrients out of the soil and we don't regenerate them to where the soil is no longer fertile? Great, we're going to focus on fossil fuels. We're going to focus on solving energy around the world. In the meantime, we're not going to have water and we won't have food, so we have to use controlled environment agriculture. The technologies have evolved. I tried to compare it to solar and wind 20 years ago. Almost no one knew about it in the US. It was a nascent industry. It has exploded over the last 20 years, and that's largely because government aligned with the private sector, the technology has evolved, and we executed at scale. Then you see electric vehicles, Tesla goes public in 2010, and in the last 10 years, everybody and their mothers/brothers talking about buying an electric vehicle, every major automotive company in the world is shifting their entire fleets to electric vehicles.

Now, in this present moment, we're in that third wave of sustainable infrastructure and its controlled environment agriculture. The technologies have all evolved to a point to where we can compete with dirty open field farming that just has no place on planet earth and 2021, and we can support the organic regenerative farmer that is treating our water and soils properly. It should be an all above solution. It shouldn't be an us versus them, but it should be and verse the stuff that's killing our water, killing our nutrients, killing our people and that's where controlled environment agriculture can be incredibly complimentary. We grow year-round, you control the environment on the inside, so it can either be a warehouse or a glass facility.

For that plant, tomato plant, or leafy green or strawberry, you're not manipulating the plant itself. It's a non-GMO seed. We're manipulating the climate around it so that we're giving that plant exactly what it needs, the amount of nutrients it needs, the amount of water it needs, the temperature, and the light, with our LED lights. We're altering the environment, using AI to scan the plant to see if there's pests or disease, using robotics to help operate the facility. Those convergence of technologies have all come together into really one term and that's controlled environment agriculture. A lot of different ways to do it. Just want to make it very clear and that was a long way of saying it's definitely not us versus soil, it's us versus open-field farming that is destroying nutrients and destroying water. We have to figure out how to complement the farmers that are doing it right.

Gil: I'm so glad you said it. I'm struck by so many things you said, and I just want to quickly follow up. You mentioned the parallels with solar and wind and how that has completely exploded in the last 10 years in terms of growth and the reasons for that are well documented. Isn't there another parallel, particularly, when we think about distributed solar as it relates to what you're doing? It's about bringing it closer to the load centers. In that sense, you're bringing clean and healthy produce closer to where it's purchase? Could you talk a little bit about parallels between the solar revolution and what you're doing in Ag-Tech?

Jonathan: Just to be clear in my last job, I built large-scale solar and was a part of a team that was supporting the Department of Defense that had an initiative to achieve 20% renewables by 2025. I was one person on a very large team, but what I was afforded was an opportunity to see all these wonderful technologies and batteries storage and solar and wind and geothermal. Yes, there are a lot of similarities between that industry and CEA. There's the resiliency aspect and then there's the bringing it closer to markets.

We try to look at the history of the American food system and we look at the 1880s when the railroads were developed and how did we get to this point? Why are we shipping leafy greens 2000 and 3000 miles? It is what it is. It's a long, circuitous path that got us here, but you talk about unsustainable. It's just ridiculous. A tomato in Mexico going to the East Coast can sit two or three weeks on a truck.

Of course, kids don't want to eat fruits and vegetables, they taste horrible. The seeds are genetically modified for transportation, not flavor, not nutrient density. The genetically modified seed is so that the fruit or vegetable can sit on the truck and not rot. It's a hard green rubber ball that ends up turning orange over time once it gets to a consumer's plate. Taste horrible, doesn't have the nutrient quality that it should. From a sustainability aspect, look at the amount of the diesel we're using to transport 2000 to 3000 miles. Food waste in the US, USDA has said 40% of fruits and vegetables in the US go in a landfill. Well, how are we going to get that number down? Pretty simple, get the fruit and vegetable to the consumer within a day or two of it being picked. For us, our geographic location, we picked Kentucky for a lot of reasons. One, I'm from here and I love it, but this is not a passion project. I just happened to be from an area that was very well suited for this industry. I said that we have record amounts of rainfall. It's been wettest year in decades. We're collecting rain. We're taking that rain to grow fruit and vegetable. 95% of a fruit and vegetable is water 95%. If you don't have water, how do you have a company that grows something that requires water, but the geographical location of where we're at allows us to get to 70% of the US in a one-day drive.

It's the same reason the coal industry thrived in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. It was not just because they had the coal, it's because those companies could mine the coal, then can get it to electric utilities all the way from Florida to Detroit to New York to St. Louis within a one day drive to power plants, and reliably power 70% of the US. Well, food is just another form of energy, and it powers the human body. We're putting these facilities in central Appalachia, collecting the rainwater, and allowing us to get to a consumer in a one-day drive. It gets our food waste tremendously down. It reduces our trucking by almost two weeks. It's good for the planet, and it's ultimately good for the consumer.

Chad: I want to talk a little bit about the facilities themselves. They're quite large. We're talking how many football fields large are these facilities? You talked a lot about water usage and consumption. How do you collect rainwater and use that efficiently through these large facilities?

Jonathan: It's all about scale for us. My background, the one thing I learned is people go, "Oh, solar is expensive. You can't power the US on solar, it's expensive." Well, it can be expensive depending on who's building it and how you build it, but it's simple economics, economies of scale. The bigger thing you do the cheaper it is. The more you can buy, the cheaper it is. It doesn't matter what you're buying. The more steel and glass and [unintelligible 00:12:05] and everything that goes into our facility, if we build really big, well, then our unit economic price comes down. Same thing with solar. If you build a 500-megawatt solar facility or a half a megawatt solar facility, your half a megawatt solar facility that cost per kilowatt-hour for the electron is going to be exponentially higher because there's so many costs bundled in to just getting a half a megawatt online versus you built really big somewhere.

You get your unit economic price down which as a result gets you per kilowatt-hour down. Think of our electron as a fruit and vegetable, it's the exact same thing. We're just building really big stuff. Now the difference is it's not a plug-and-play like solar. Solar and wind are pretty easy. Once you build it, you plug it in, you sit and stare at it. Every now and again, somebody maintenances it. That is not this. These are plants, they're living, they require tremendous attention, but the sheer scale of it. Our more [unintelligible 00:13:08] facility 2.8 million square feet under glass. We elected to build a glass facility instead of a warehouse. I'm not a physicist or I wasn't a PhD or scientist in agriculture, but prior to AppHarvest, I think what helped me was just looking at how you build a system to get the most efficient result.

There's a couple of things you need really three in order to grow a plant on planet Earth, and sunlight and rainwater are two of them. If you want to get your costs down, obviously you want to build a really big thing so you can get your unit economics on scale down, but then how you grow it is equally important. Ultimately, I come to this with a very simple mind. We cannot raise prices on consumers who are already struggling week by week to make a paycheck. It is our obligation as companies to come up with solutions that work, align with the planet, but then give the American people an opportunity to buy the product. Most people don't have the opportunity to go spend the whole paycheck at a grocery store. They don't.

Our obligation as a sustainable community is to focus on the 95% hard-working Americans that will want to be a part of these solutions, but they don't have the opportunity to pay for it. It is critical. It is our job to make this affordable. That is the only way we're going to get there. If we're coming at it from that viewpoint, then shouldn't we grow fruit and vegetable with sunlight and rainwater? In order to get our costs down and have use less electricity, shouldn't we use the sun first, then use LED lights? That's what a glass structure allows us to do. If we were in a warehouse, we can't use the sunlight, so we're relying solely on LED light. Can you do it? Yes, you can do it. Is it a good application for Alaska? Yes, probably. Is it a good application in most of the world? Not economically, it isn't. Rainwater, another critical function. You look at some of the worst infrastructure in the US right now, some of the most aging, critical infrastructure that can fundamentally destroy this country. It is our water systems. For AppHarvest to control our own destiny, collect all of our rainwater, we're not even connected to city water for our growing, we're not even connected to city sewer to put waste disposal down. We collect all that rainwater on our roof, which is 2.8 million square feet. Think of your roof, think of your house, it's like that triangle, and think of that multiplied by 1000. We have all these triangular roofs with gutters that go along.

We collect the rainwater, in all those gutters. Those gutters go into pipes, the pipes go into a big pond, the pond is almost 70 Olympic-sized swimming pools. We only filter that water with sand and UV, no chemicals; sand to get the particulate matter out, UV to kill any bacteria. We pump that into the facility, we add nutrients, it goes to the plants. Once our water is in our facility, the only way it leaves is as a fruit and vegetable. We keep recycling that water inside until the plants absorb it and then it leaves in the fruit and vegetable. That's where and I think your show is important in the conversations you continue to have. ESG has to be affordable and sustainability has to be a part of your business model to save money. Of course, if you get less waste, that's more money.

If you can use sunlight and rainwater, that's lower costs. In all of my investor meetings, I would have investors go, "Oh, well, ESG, that's nice. It's cute but you have to have a business." My thing is, "Okay, great. Well, you tell me how that business is going to continue to work in the southwest of the US where you don't have water." Let me know how that's going to work. We have to turn the ESG story and to what's been the last 10 years of we're on the fringe, it's nice, oh it's good. How do you value good? No, it's not that, it's good business. If you're not thinking through these problems, you're not looking out for your shareholders to best utilize your capital and get a lower cost and give the consumer a product they can afford. All of this has to play together.

We at AppHarvest are not perfect, we make mistakes every day, every week. We have a long way to go to achieve our goals and really be the company we want to be but we're very hard on ourselves every single day. It is raise the bar, get better, and we have to do it for our shareholders, we have to do it for our consumers. That's the only way ESG is going to work. ESG is past the point of, "It makes me feel good so I'm going to invest in that company." No, no, no, the business has to work. That's how ESG is going to attract trillions of dollars and rebuild our world and we don't need to demonize Wall Street. It is what it is.

Wall Street's a tool, go make your voice heard, change business models, the private sector can be a part of solving all these people and planet issues. We don't have time anymore. We know Wall Street can deploy billions of dollars of capital as efficiently as human civilization has ever seen so how do we build business models that align with people on the planet so we can go grab capital, put companies in place, and give consumers a product at an affordable price. That's our lens every day and that's ultimately why we built really big and ultimately why we use sunlight and why we use rainwater and a lens that we try to think through every single day here at AppHarvest.

Chad: In Hannon Armstrong, our company was built on the backbone of energy efficiency because the cheapest electron out there is the one you don't consume, and similarly with water, the cheapest gallon of water is the one you don't consume. ESG is obviously a big focus of our company. Since we're on that topic, you are a public benefit corporation and a B Corp, I believe. You're one of the very few publicly-traded companies that are both. You mentioned ESG and how you integrate it into your business model operation. Can you talk a little bit more about how ESG actually drives those cost savings? Do you use LED lighting? How does your shipping practices which probably are low carbon, drive down costs? You mentioned about the water-saving technologies already but tell us specifically how your focus on sustainability and ESG actually drives your cost lower?

Jonathan: You got to get food waste down, you got to get trucking miles down. You have to use rainwater that's free and abundant. Thank you, planet Earth, if you're in the right region. You have to use sunlight, all of it. It's not a nice to have anymore. We don't have luxury to pillage our resources, the way we have. If you want to look out for your business and ensure you are not bankrupt in 10, 20, 30 years, then you need to build resiliency into your business model. You need to build resiliency so you have a model that can sustain and give the consumer affordable pricing. Yes, I think we’re one of 5, maybe less than 10 companies now that is a publicly-traded company on a major exchange or on the NASDAQ went public earlier this year, that is both a public benefit corporation.

The way we are filed and we also have the B Corp certificate, every company should be moving in that direction out of sheer self-preservation. That's where you all, me and others, listeners on your show probably care about ESG for a lot of the right reasons. You know what? I've realized some people are never going to get there. Some people just want to make money. It is what it is. We can try to change greed and power in the world, but it's never happened over history or we can just motivate greedy people to understand that their own self-preservation, they might lose their job and their company could go bankrupt if they don't have resilient business models. That's where our generation who's now coming of age, so to speak. I'm a pretty young CEO. I hope to have another 30 years. I turned 36 going on 37 and just got married. I'm thinking of my next 30 years and I'm on a warpath through AppHarvest. Here's what's interesting. My friends are running for Congress. My friends are taking jobs on Wall Street. It's no more protesting. It's go do it and if the people on the other end aren't doing it, let's get them fired and out of the boardroom.

That's it. Change the board, push them out the back door. That is where we have to be firm, we have to be ethical and we have to play in the legal bounds, but we need to charge because that's what the other side is doing. One way to motivate these CEOs, their greedy mind of just wanting to make money, we'll show them a clear path that they either make more money through implementing ESG or their company is on a fast track going straight underground. Out of their own selfish desires, what are they going to do? That's just the way we're going to have to operate. Not everybody is going to care with a heart and a mind and think, "You know what? I want to make sure the next generation has a better life than I had."

Unfortunately, some people in the world just aren't going to think that way. Let's give them a here and now reason and force them to think that way or find ways in which we can get them out of the boardroom, out of the executive rooms, and off these companies where they shouldn't be guiding companies to the next 10 and 20 years. Again, part of that is short-term incentive. We wonder again, why aren't we going in the right direction? Well, politicians get reelected every two and four years, CEOs are judged by quarterly earnings and annual guidance and we wonder why no one's looking out for the next 10 and 20 years. It isn't that confusing. Pretty simple. It's our job now, as we in our mid-30s and mid-40s are taking over large roles and companies. We need to be the politicians.

We need to be the executives in the boardroom. We need to push, rewrite the rules of the game because if we don't, it's not going to happen. That's where, again, my friends in the ESG world, we need to get out of the streets and stop protesting, "Look that worked to a point. It worked. It's time to roll up your sleeves, do the hard work, work 18 hours a day if that's what it takes, go work at companies, build companies." Again, we're not perfect at AppHarvests. We have a long, long way to go, but our team is incredibly proud to be one of those less than 10 companies in the world that can say we're a public benefit corporation and a B Corp.

Frankly, these conversations, and when I say this type of stuff, we just have a bigger and bigger and bigger target on our back here at AppHarvest. That's the risk that we play that the more we talk about this, the more that target on us grows. We're not going to save agriculture. There's going to be hundreds of great companies working in agriculture and food. We're not the end all be all in the region we're working in, but we're one company and we can't have a loud voice. I don't see anybody as competition. If you're doing it right-- I give CEOs my phone number that "should be competitors". "Call me, let's work together. How can we help each other grow?"

Gil: That's a perfect segue. Let's talk about people, right? You've gone from 20 employees at the start of 2022 as of April, 500. I bet it's more now. What has it been like experiencing such rapid growth and talk about the culture? How do you maintain that at such a growth [unintelligible 00:24:41]?

Jonathan: You have to have these frank, honest conversations. I cannot be the McKinsey CEO that sits in a box and analyzes everything. Part of the culture is real authenticity, transparency, and trying to give people as much autonomy to run as possible. It was psychotic to go from 20 people to 500 people in the middle of COVID, I might add. We built one of the largest facilities in the world. We hired a stand-it-up and trained people in the middle of COVID. No secret here, we had a quarterly earnings call that was recently held and we lowered some of our guidance and missed some of our targets in Q2. We had trouble training people in the middle of COVID, but how about this, we had people in the middle of COVID. I had 500 people showing up to work every single day busting everything they had to figure out how they get better. I'm proud of my team.

Gil: You talk about this notion of faith in grit and that's not your typical corporate-speak values in how you manifest that the team and growing the fruits and veggies in a better way. How do you arrive at that because that's not pull off a McKinsey-tested thing? I just love that. Can you talk about faith and grit as a concept?

Jonathan: I'm one of those people that graduated from public schools here and was told time and again what I wouldn't be. We need to unlock potential inside of everyone. I love my friends that got Ivy League degrees and they're privileged enough to have that. We have people on our team and they're wicked smart, but who else is wicked smart? My entry-level employee. We have to unlock the potential inside of everyone. We've got to do it in this company and one way is again, you have that faith inside of yourself. You have that grit and determination. You wake up every single day challenging yourself to get better and just block out the outside noise of what you can't do and you believe in yourself and what you can do.

Chad: I personally grew up in Western Pennsylvania and sometimes I refer to that as the intersection of Appalachia and the Rust Belt, an area very hard hit by job losses, steel industry's not nearly as strong as it wants to be, there's no coal anymore. The companies that were there haven't even taken care of the retirees, they've slashed the pension benefits and healthcare. You have created as you noted at least 500 jobs in the middle of Appalachia, you noted that you're training workers. Could you talk a little bit about the programs you have with the local high schools and agricultural universities to drive the workforce growth that you need to grow your business going forward?

Jonathan: We are investing in the super long-term. We're putting high school curriculum in place, changing college curriculum in the state of Kentucky so that we can have a pipeline of brilliant people that maybe they'll start their own company or maybe they'll come work with us. We have to get in deep early with young people's minds. I'm the CEO of a publicly-traded company scratching my head going, "Why isn't every company doing this? I don't get it." We're being treated here in Kentucky like some revolutionary radical because we're investing in high school education. People didn't even know how to initially work-- how we put the money in, they were like, "Wait. I don't know how do you-- you want to in two weeks put technology at our school and let our kids use it to grow leafy greens and take it to class? How do we let that happen?"

Thankfully, we had a governor here, we have mayors, Republicans and Democrats, and Independents that go, "You know what? The laws in place probably might slow this down, we're going to figure out how to do this, no is not an answer we're going to get to a yes." We've had high school principals, we've had high school teachers, we've had students who've just taken this thing over. Our goal now is to be at 20 high schools in Kentucky. I hope it's a model for America. We want all high schools in Kentucky to eventually have these technologies and ultimately, think of a shipping container. I met Kimbal Musk, went to go tour Square Roots in Brooklyn and that's where the idea came from was, "Wait a second. Let's take this shipping container concept, put it at every high school, let young people operate a farm with an iPhone and iPad using software and sensors, growing leafy greens year-round. Let them take the leafy green into the classroom and give it--"

These are kids that-- why do we have food insecurity in America when we can just be letting kids learn how to grow with technology then they get to take it home? You have kids that are food insecure, they can take it home to their family, they can take it in the lunchroom. Thankfully, Republicans and Democrats have all figured out how to play nice here in Kentucky and this model is rolling out. I hope that someone in DC calls us soon. We've been talking to different secretaries. I see there being no reason, there's no IP around this with AppHarvest, why every high school in America doesn't grow their own fruits and vegetables using technology, giving kids skills, and letting those fruits and vegetables go to a classroom.

Gil: Awesome. This is the tradition on our podcast where we turn to our lightning round, we call the hot sea. First set is fill in the blank. The most important advice or feedback I have followed is?

Jonathan: Have a passion, follow it, and believe in yourself.

Gil: The most important advice or feedback I have rejected is--

Jonathan: You're not good enough. Anybody in this floral can do anything when they put their mind to it.

Gil: The word or phrase I most overuse is--

Jonathan: This is hard.

Gil: Yes.

Jonathan: Yes. If it's not hard, why are you doing it? I keep trying to figure out how to tell myself, "Why am I always in these hard situations?" You only live once, you want to prop your feet up and just go snore. I probably say "This is hard," a little too much, but it's a little dose of reminder that maybe we're doing the right things if it's hard.

Gil: Success is--

Jonathan: Giving people coming in behind us a better chance than what we had. Every night I think about every parent from my parents. I was very lucky. I had great parents. They wanted to give me a better life so they sacrificed in the short term to give their kids a better life. The thing that keeps me up the most divided, it means no matter how hard I work, no matter what I do, my kids might walk into a world that's worse than what I had. What is success? Sacrifice, learning from your mistakes. I would say if I had to put it into one word, success to sacrifice. Then you have to think what are you sacrificing for? It better not be for greed in a better not be for money. I hope it's for the right things. Is it for your family? Is it for your community?

Gil: You mentioned Martha Stewart's on your board. Has she told you the best way to prepare your tomatoes? I'm sure she's got the recipe. Can you share it?

Jonathan: You talk about somebody that's just up at 5:00 AM in the garden, texting you had midnight. She's a critic because her attention to detail is like something I've never seen before her. When we shipped her the first tomatoes, I was up all night thinking, "Oh my God, is Martha going to like them? Martha loved them. She has a hard critic. She gets direct feedback, but that feedback has been very valuable to us here.

Gil: The recipe though. What's the vet? Did she tell you that you got--?

Jonathan: Yes. We recently did it. Well, I'm here in Kentucky and she comes with this no knife pasta and we're tearing up tomatoes literally without a knife and putting it in the pot to make homemade marinara. She is like, "When you don't have a knife and you might be out on your yacht." I am like, "Oh, Martha, when you don't have a knife and you might be at your RV or trailer by a creekside, you could do the same thing." She didn't give us the recipe. We're probably going to be releasing that recipe pretty soon. The best recipe we've had from her so far is a no knife pasta where you use your hands to tear up the tomatoes and make the marinara.

Gil: Got it. I'm a UMass guy too, public university. I am jealous of the hoop dominance at your Alma mater. I would remind you that-- our listeners at Coach Cal did start at UMass before he went on to great things at your school. Who's the best UK basketball player of all time?

Jonathan: Oh, you can't have me do that. No way. I'm sitting too close to [inaudible 00:33:11] to answer that question. We do take a lot of learning lessons from Coach Cal on he does say something that I think resonates here which is this place isn't for everyone. It's not. Being an elite player, you don't walk out of bed and be elite. To be the top of your game, a top athlete, you have to want it. That pressure and urgency is not for everyone. We have taken that. Who's the best basketball player to come out of Kentucky? Oh my GOD. Too many to name. There's 35 players in the NBA right now, but there's probably as good or better players that, 10 and 20 years ago.

I can't do that. If I say that it might not mean anything on this show to national listeners, but here in Kentucky, I'll have people throwing tomatoes at me if I don't say the right name.

Gil: Sure. Well, there's just so many good ones. Great, good happy for you. Last two questions. My climate role model is--?

Jonathan: I think some of the Indigenous people that have managed to live on this earth for thousands and thousands of years. Then here we come in and disrupt everything. We have to go back to figure out and to learn some of that knowledge that we've lost, whether it's native Americans that lived here or Indigenous people in South America. My climate heroes are the Indigenous people that, carried on civilization in the middle of ice storms and deserts and they use nothing but nature to survive.

We've lost a lot of that information. I love science. I love modern technology. I'm a fact-based data-driven person, but we need to go back and look at a lot of the legacy information we've lost and what some of these people knew. People say microbes are the next unknown. We have no idea what microbes are. It's this interconnected web underneath the soil, plants are communicating with each other. Nature is communicating with each other, trees know what other trees when they're in distress. It is phenomenal and our Indigenous people to live thousands of years ago unlocked a lot of that knowledge inside of these plants. We've lost that, we've gone industrial science. There's a balance.

We need to go back to looking at what planet Earth has to offer, looking at the plants, and see what they have to offer and unlocking that knowledge. We're scratching the surface, we're not even close. We are so clueless the way this planet works. If we're not going to solve our climate crisis, the planet is going to solve it for us. We are going to be the medium that allows to make it happen. We need to figure out how we're going to harness the knowledge inside of planet Earth, and hopefully, we can put those people-- You know what I'd love to see? Indigenous people get on boards of publicly traded companies. Let them in a boardroom, let them talk from their perspective.

Again, we have to radically change the way we think about how we solve these problems. We can't assume humans alone and our ego is going to solve our climate problems. It's not going to happen and we have to look to nature. Who has looked to nature the best? Those Indigenous people that have lived all around the world for thousands of years.

Gil: Okay, last one. To me, climate positive means--

Jonathan: Sustainability and resiliency. I need to know that my grandkids and their grandkids are gonna have a better life than me.

Gil: Keep fighting, Jonathan. This is awesome work, and thank you for sharing your story and AppHarvest's story.

Jonathan: Thank you. Hey, we're going to figure it out. You all are part of the conversation that's accelerating these stories. Appreciate the opportunity and keep doing the work you're doing to highlight these stories over the next couple of years.

Gil: Thank you, Jonathan.

Chad: Thank you, Jonathan. Take care.

Chad Reed: Climate Positive is produced by Hannon Armstrong and David Benjamin Sound. If you like what you heard today, please share the show with a friend and leave us a comment and a rating on our show page. 

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I'm Chad Reed 

And this is Climate Positive.