VINCENNES, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — City leaders joined officials from The Pantheon and the Knox County Indiana Economic Development Corporation Friday morning to announce the launch of AgroRenew LLC, a processing facility that will repurpose food waste from Knox County’s thriving watermelon, cantaloupe, and pumpkin industry into eco-friendly bioplastics.

“Due to the vast bio resources that are available in this community, the partnership with Knox County, the City of Vincennes, Katie and I are pleased to announce that AgroRenew has selected Knox County and Vincennes as the best community to build a processing plant,” AgroRenew Founder, Brian Southern said.

“We waste an enormous amount of food every year,” Brady Mouzin, Operations Director of Mouzin Brothers Farm said. ” We’ve come up with a lot of good outlets for that food. The slightly blemished stuff, we have partnerships with food banks and things like that but even still we leave almost what almost the exact same amount of produce in the field as we harvest.”

AgroRenew secured land in Knox County’s Industrial Park at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Elkorn Road and plans to break ground in early 2024. The company plans to invest $83 million by 2026 to build out the facility in 4 phases. Once all phases are completed, the 196,000 sq. ft. facility will span 20 acres and employ nearly 250 people.

Broken down into 4 phases, the processing facility will span 5 acres to complete Phase I with a need for a total 20 acres for projected growth.

Katie Southern, Chief Science Officer said, “The new plant will start with 102,000 square feet of production, quality team member area, office, and inhouse daycare.”

During Friday’s press conference, the crowd broke out in applause at Southern’s mention of an onsite daycare.

“We think it’s going to be a huge benefit. We really believe in the family approach to doing things in the community and all of our team members are going to be part of our family. And so, having those benefits and resources, having good medical, having good family programs and things like that is just going to allow us to grow talent within Knox County,” Brian Southern said.

At a later date, the company plans to establish a Bioplastics Innovation Center next to the processing facility. This 16,000 sq. ft. research facility will sit on 21 acres of experimental crop development; AgroRenew expects to hire an additional 22 science and engineering jobs.

Mouzin said this is huge for the farm, “Current standard procedure is that the farm incurs a cost or pays someone to dump the product, if it doesn’t make grade A fruit and vegetable standards, so this is going to provide an opportunity for us to either do that at a cost neutral way or even make a profit off of this. And then this also opens up the doors for us to harvest all of the fruits and vegetables that we would previously leave in the field.”

How’d AgroRenew LLC get to this point?

Brian Southern, a business advisor and successful entrepreneur, was introduced to local farmers and agricultural leaders by Nichole Like, CEO at The Pantheon business incubator and co-working space in Vincennes. From those conversations, Southern learned about Knox County’s excellent reputation as one of the nation’s primary watermelon production hubs as well as the substantial amounts of organic waste generated annually. AgroRenew’s manufacturing plant will utilize the local produce resource, transforming fruit waste into biodegradable and sustainable bioplastics.

In a press release, Southern said, “Our journey from concept to realization has been a remarkable testament to the power of innovation and collaboration at The Pantheon. With our cutting-edge processing plant, we aim to not only redefine the plastics industry but also contribute significantly to the local economy while prioritizing environmental sustainability.”

Image of a watermelon at the Pantheon news conference announcing AgroRenews plans for an $83M investment in building a bioplastics facility in Knox County (WTWO)
Image of a watermelon at the Pantheon news conference announcing AgroRenews plans for an $83M investment in building a bioplastics facility in Knox County (WTWO)

About AgroRenew LLC

According to a news release, AgroRenew’s mission is to reduce the environmental impact of plastic production and create a circular economy model. “AgroRenew is committed to creating, developing, and producing 100% biodegradable plastics sourced from a blend of crop food waste, cover crops, and other biosources,” the release reads.

AgroRenew’s initial target crops are watermelon, cantaloupe, and pumpkin waste,
totaling 100 million pounds per season.