“Vertical Harvest” in Wyoming to grow 50 tons of indoor produce a year

In cold Wyoming Winters, a new Vertical Farm keeps fresh produce local. Winters are notoriously harsh in Jackson, Wyoming, where temperatures can plunge far below zero and snowstorms regularly pummel the surrounding mountains.

The conditions make for world-class skiing, but they aren’t necessarily conducive to growing heirloom tomatoes.

As a result, the majority of vegetables consumed on dinner plates in this remote resort town have to be shipped in through steep canyons or over mountain passes, from locales as far afield as Florida, California, and Mexico.

But a new vertical farming experiment in the heart of downtown is poised to turn that equation on its head, at least in part.

Its first seeds were planted earlier this year. If all goes according to plan, the three-story greenhouse will be harvesting more than 100,000 pounds of fresh, locally grown veggies annually.

The founders of the greenhouse estimate it will offset 3% of the produce that currently has to be shipped into the valley. 

In the background, bins of arugula are transported on conveyor belts across the width of the greenhouse and up and down its south-facing glass facade, feeding the plants on a combination of natural and artificial light.

Crops—which run the gamut from butterhead lettuce to sugar pea cress—are now being harvested each day and sold to grocery stores, local restaurants, and residents of the 10,000-person town.

Vertical Harvest is on the leading edge of a wave of multi-storied farming operations cropping up across the globe. In New Jersey, a company called AeroFarms is building a 70,000-square-foot farm in an old steel mill.

Indoor farms have even taken hold in Alaska, where aspiring entrepreneurs are growing vegetables in shipping containers.

Traditional farms are reliant on the whims of Mother Nature for things like temperature, precipitation, and sunlight.

In vertical farms, nearly everything can be controlled. That can translate to a 365-day growing season free of droughts and freezes.

At Vertical Harvest, for example, crops are grown hydroponically, meaning the roots of the plant sit in water infused with the nutrients needed to help plants grow.

No soil is used, and the amount of water and fertilizer needed to grow nutritious crops is minuscule compared to traditional agriculture. "

"You have the option of 95% survival of whatever you plant," microbiology professor Dickson Despommier says. "The best farms in America are 70%. Not only that, you can grow things year-round."

All of those benefits combine to create an industry that has some significant upside, and a few investors appear to be taking note.

The business is registered as a "low-profit" limited liability company, or L3C, meaning Vertical Harvest has stated social goals outside of simply maximizing income.

One of those is to help Jackson’s developmentally disabled residents by providing employment. Fifteen people with a variety of intellectual and physical disabilities share 140 hours of work each week.

The greenhouse employs five additional people who oversee the small workforce and the hydroponic growing system. Vertical Harvest also has been designed as a public space, at least partially.

The ground floor serves as a community gathering area. On one side is a market, where anyone can walk in and buy fresh produce.

All told, the greenhouse cost $3.8 million, with the balance coming from investors, donations, and debt. In land-scarce Jackson, the partnerships were integral to getting the project done.

Ninety-seven percent of land in the county is public. The scarcity works to drive up prices, making the town’s contribution vital.

To break even, Vertical Harvest plans to lean heavily on selling high-value "microgreens," which are harvested just days after seeding and are highly sought after by fine-dining chefs.

But before city council members agreed to the project, they wanted some questions answered about energy efficiency. They weren’t convinced that growing tomatoes in winter would be less carbon-intensive than trucking them in from far away. They also had questions about the business model.

All five members of the city council ended up getting on board. In the end, Yehia and other vertical farming experts say they don’t necessarily view the industry as a silver bullet for the future of global food production.

At this point, growing certain things, such as fruit trees or root vegetables, just isn’t economical in vertical farms, says Andrew Blume, North America regional manager of the Association for Vertical Farming.

Vertical farms also help create green jobs and promote food transparency.

When a new greenhouse pops up in a community, residents are apt to learn more about what they are eating and where it comes from. That, in turn, says Blume, can help communities become healthier.

You can read more at the VerticalHarvestJackson.com website
Or check out the the Vertical Harvest Facebook Page

To make a more streamlined and concise read, this article is a stripped down version of a longer article on FastCoexist.com
…and special thanks to Bobbi Hill, a Gaia Health Blog contributor, and my #1 fan, for directing me to such an inspiring article :)

~stay healthy~

 

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