“Tie is our tomato man,” said Nona Yehia, co-founder and CEO of Vertical Harvest, a modern three-story greenhouse in Jackson, Wyoming.
Lean 6’5 As she watched, Warner carefully weaves through a canopy of plants, pulling out ripe tomatoes hanging from the top, and Yahya smiles proudly. “The tie is good in all parts of growing tomato plants. It’s really impressive.”
Running an indoor farm in the snowy northwest corner of Wyoming was not a job Yehia himself had envisioned years ago. After a New York City-based architect moved to Jackson in 2008 to start a new company, Yehia wanted to try something new in his new community.
“We want to address the local sustainable food source,” she said.
The idea of going up
Jackson sits at an altitude of 6,000 feet between Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Teton National Forest. Its location means very little space and ideal climate for the tourist city to grow new products. .
“Together we are looking for a solution, and from there came the idea of going up,” Yehia said.
It was “up” on 1/10 acre from the existing parking garage.
In the spring of 2016 the vertical harvest began to grow its first spinach, microgreens and tomato plants. The farm’s current 40 employees now grow year-round, and cultivate ten acres of produce equivalent to traditional do-it-yourself farming.
Yehia says all of the products it grows are distributed to 40 local restaurants and four grocery stores.
“Nona approached it to bring something unique that can be used and featured throughout the year,” said Ben Westenberg, executive chef and partner at Persephone West Bank in Wilson, near Wyoming. “Vertical harvesting is so easy to call, ‘I need some salad greens, tomatoes and some pretty micro greens.’ They said, ‘Well, we’ll be there tomorrow.’
‘We pair innovation with low population’
When planning for a new greenhouse, Yehia and her design team realized that they needed to do more than just grow new greens for the natives.
“There was a big problem,” Yehia said. “People in our town who want to work for the physically and mentally handicapped, who want to find a stable and meaningful job, could not do it.
Half of the workers at Vertical Harvest have physical or physical disabilities. Yehia says every employee, including Warner – is autistic – in maintaining the function of vertical harvesting.
“We can empower our communities by giving them the opportunity to provide the least services and by giving them something they can give back,” Yehia explained.
“It’s hard for people with disabilities to find work,” says Sean Stone, who washes dishes at several restaurants in town before joining Vertical Harvest as a farmer. “I’m happy to help the community, and to grow new products.”
Grows beyond Wyoming
In July, Yehia announced that it would expand Vertical Harvest to serve the second community. The new farm, located in Westbrook, Maine, will open in 2022, five times larger than the original Wyoming greenhouse.
The goal is to grow one million pounds of products each year for local restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals and schools.
“We are excited to move to Maine and have a larger space, and offer local products at the city level,” she says.
Yehia believes that the global epidemic this year has prompted consumers and communities across the country to explore new ways to obtain new products from nearby sources.
“Looking at this vertical model ten years ago, Kovid drew attention to what we know: we have a centralized diet, which prevents us from getting fresh, local and tasty food,” Yehia said. “I think that’s why Kovid-19 prompted people to ask about locally grown food they like in the summer and how to get it all year round. It’s about vertical harvesting.”