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How AppHarvest's farming scheme imploded, and took its workforce down with it

The workers had spent the morning of November 8, 2021, clipping, trussing, and trellising hundreds of thousands of tomato plants that twisted almost four stories into the air. They were inside one of the world’s largest high-tech greenhouses, which sits on more than 60 acres of a former cattle field in Morehead, Kentucky.

As one of the greenhouse workers, who I’ll call Nora, sat down for lunch in the worker canteen, she heard her colleagues whisper about their new task for the day. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell would be visiting that afternoon to give a speech praising the greenhouse company AppHarvest. Before he arrived, management had to make sure their Spanish-speaking colleagues disappeared. “We had very little time,” recalled Nora, whose real name is being withheld because she is subject to a nondisclosure agreement. “We had to get them off the premises and away before he got there.”

Nora watched her co-workers get dismissed, grab their stuff, and leave on white buses bound for a trio of small motels where the largely Mexican contract workers lived four or five to a room. When McConnell arrived, Nora joined her remaining, mostly-white colleagues on the sunny lawn. Their clean T-shirts advertised AppHarvest’s name and logo, intended to invoke both the Appalachian region where they worked and the iconic branding of Apple — Silicon Valley by way of the Middle American upstart.

“We all know the decline of the coal industry only got worse, and so this [AppHarvest] gives us hope,” the senator said, praising the local labor force encircling him. “You are the real leaders, I think, in beginning to fully develop all of Kentucky’s potential.”


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