“Ty is our tomato man,” said Nona Yehia, co-founder and CEO of an innovative three-story greenhouse in downtown Jackson, Wyoming.
As he watched the slender 6’5 “Warner carefully weaved his way through the giant umbrella of plants, pulling up ripe tomatoes, Yehia smiled with pride.” Tie is good in every part of tomato growing plants. It is really impressive. ”
Operating an indoor farm in the icy northwest corner of Wyoming was not exactly the same thing Yehia had applied for himself years earlier. In 2008, after the New York City-based architect moved to Jackson to start a new firm, Yehia wanted to try something new in her new community.
“We really wanted to address the local permanent source of food,” she said.
Thought to go up
Jackson sits at an elevation of just over 6,000 feet, nestled between Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Teton National Forest, and its location means little space for farmers to grow new produce for the bustling tourist town. And favorable weather. .
“We were looking for an out-of-the-box solution and that’s where the idea of going up came from,” Yehia said.
The “up” was on 1/10 of an acre eliminating an existing parking garage.
In the spring of 2016, Vertical Harvest began growing its first lettuce, micrograin and tomato plants. The current employee of the farm has turned 40 years old, and cultivates a yield amount equal to ten acres of traditional outdoor farming.
Yehia says the produce is distributed to all 40 local restaurants and four grocery stores.
“Nona has approached this as bringing something unique to chefs that they can use and feature throughout the year”, said Ben Westenberg, executive chef and partner of Persephone West Bank in nearby Wilson, Wyoming. “It’s very easy to call Vertical Harvest and be like, ‘I want some salad greens and tomatoes and some really pretty micro greens.’ And they say, “Okay, we’ll get there tomorrow.”
‘We are innovating with a disqualified population’
While planning a new greenhouse, Yehia and his design team felt they had more to do with the project than growing fresh greens for the locals.
“There was a big problem,” Yehia said. “The people with physical and intellectual disabilities in our city who wanted to work, who wanted to do consistent and meaningful work, were not doing it. We are connecting innovation with a under-served population and really the notion of Creating a sea change. What this population is capable of. ”
Half of vertical harvest workers have physical or intellectual disability. Yehia, whose older brother is handicapped, says every employee, including Warner – who is autistic – is critical to maintaining the maintenance of the workspace.
“We can provide the lowest amount of service in our communities by only giving them a chance and being able to give them back,” Yohia explained.
Sean Stone, who used to wash dishes at several restaurants in the city before joining Vertical Harvest as a farmer, says, “It’s hard for people with disabilities to get jobs.” “I am happy to help the community and they have new produce.”
Moving to wyoming
In July, Yehia announced that Vertical Harvest would be expanded to serve one another community. The new farm, located in Westbrook, Maine, will open in 2022 and will be five times larger than the original Wyoming greenhouse.
The goal is for local restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals and schools to produce one million pounds each year.
“Because of moving to Maine and being a much larger place, we’re excited to play the model of providing local produce on an urban scale,” she says.
Yehia believes that the global epidemic this year has forced consumers and communities across the country to explore new sources so that they can produce from new sources.
Yohia said, “Kovid ten years ago when we were looking at this vertical model, shed a light on what we knew: we have a centralized food system and it gives us fresh, local, good food. Prohibits receiving, ”said Yehia. “I think Kovid-19 has forced people to ask why this is so and now they can get local food they like in the summer and get it year round. It’s really vertical Harvest is about. ”