A greenhouse in Jackson is taking farming to new heights, and is helping to change the way farming is done in places it may not be easy to do so.
Vertical Harvest is located on the side of a parking garage near downtown Jackson. It started just three years ago. The 13,500 square foot greenhouse is using one-tenth of an acre to grow more than 35 different plants year round. It was founded by two women who wanted to solve some issues in the community. First, getting fresh produce year round, especially in the winter. Jackson’s growing season is around four months long.
“Outside of that season things are coming in from Arizona, Mexico, California and sometimes further away,” said Sam Bartels, business development director for Vertical Harvest. “And so by the time the food gets here, it’s often nutrient void. And also, the carbon footprint of doing that is quite high. So they started looking for what could be a fresh produce solution. And that was building a greenhouse in town and a greenhouse that could weather Jackson’s harsh winter.”
Vertical Harvest operates on a completely hydroponic system, meaning all of the plants are fed through water.
“We are a world-first greenhouse in that we’ve stacked three different microclimates on top of each other,” Bartels said. “And that facilitates us growing tomatoes on the top floor which is a very tropical environment. Having lettuce, micro greens and brassicas on our more temperate floors.”
The other purpose of Vertical Harvest is to employee people with different disabilities. Vertical Harvest currently employs about 20 people with different disabilities.
“Half of our employees didn’t have work before Vertical Harvest, and honestly, that’s just criminal,” Bartels said. “You know, this population deserves every opportunity and that’s what this project is really about at its core, is pairing innovation with an underserved need.”
Vertical Harvest started out distributing its produce within a 40-mile radius of Jackson. Now, it goes up into parts of Montana. It is also sharing its ideas with others around the country. It was recently awarded a $500,000 Fannie Mae contract to do a study on expanding the greenhouse in Chicago.
“We’ve partnered with the National Affordable Housing Trust to evaluate what it looks like to incorporate Vertical Harvest into future affordable housing sites,” Bartels said.
Vertical Harvest is a public-private partnership with the town of Jackson and the state of Wyoming. Local restaurants, grocery stores and resorts all contributed to vertical harvest to get it started and they continue that support today.
“People often ask us, ‘Why Jackson Hole? Why would you try and build this world-first farm in one of the harshest you could pick?'” Bartels said. “And the answer that we give time and time again is that we couldn’t have done it anywhere else. We have such an incredibly supportive community that enabled us to grow this project and they grew with us.”
Vertical Harvest offers public tours four times a week during the summer and three times a week the rest of the year.