RCS was on the road recently, assisting a customer based in the valley of Jackson Hole, below the backdrop of the spectacular Teton Mountain Range in Wyoming. The ground in this popular resort and ski town is iced over up to eight months per year. Although the rugged land is cherished by outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of the pristine natural wilderness, the severe climate and brief growing season makes traditional vegetable farming in this vast unspoiled high country a perennial challenge. Satisfying the demand from residents and food businesses for fresh produce is a costly ask as most fruits and vegetables are trucked in from those tracts far afield with more fertile growing conditions.
(photo credit: Gerardo Gonzalez)
The challenge to meet this demand was taken up by resident architects, designers and innovators in partnership with local and state support. The founders of an innovative urban agriculture entity pursued a vision that would address the need for locally-grown and harvested fruits and vegetables as well as seek solutions for the unemployment of a large population of the employable developmentally disabled community. Through this partnership, in May of 2016, Vertical Harvest, a hydroponic farm, arose from a well-worn parking lot on the edges of town in Jackson. The Farm not only focuses on growing nutritious produce year round, but also on hiring developmentally disabled people, a group that, in Wyoming, has an unemployment rate of about 78 percent.* Its employees have conditions including autism, seizure disorders, spina bifida, and Down syndrome. The Farm created CULTIVATE a program designed to hire, train, develop and support those with different abilities in the community. Of the Farm’s 28 full-time employees, 16 of those are members of the CULTIVATE program.
(photo credit: designboom)
The Farm now approaches its third year of production and offers tours for those curious to experience this micro-marvel of urban agriculture first hand, which RCS was eager to engage in one brisk morning. The warm moist atmosphere inside the spacious multistoried glass building is a noticeable contrast to the chilly alpine nip outside. Worker bees buzz and hover around flowering tomato plants, taking in the natural and engineered light, going about their singular purpose of pollinating the five different varieties of these nightshades growing from suspension pulleys in a lofty cultivating room known as “The Jungle”. A tour through the greenhouse producing micro basil, pea tendrils, radish sprouts and micro sunflowers comes with a tutorial describing the true nutritional benefit of micro-greens. Vertical Harvest research partners found micro greens such as cilantro and radish contain up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than their mature counterparts, making these mighty minis much more significant than just servicing as a persnickety, trendy flourish of garnish on dinner plates.
Moving through the facility, the bounty harvested from the modest structure is remarkable, the rows of budding vegetation seemingly endless. The three-story structure has floors devoted to growing varietal lettuces, tomatoes, herbs and microgreens. Each room is designed as an individual mini-ecosystem providing air, light, moisture and nutrients specific to the optimal health of each plant. Some of the plants in the greenhouses are situated along rows of vertically revolving carousels, hung by a length of chain, lowering down to the workers' level for harvesting and care. At an elevation of 6,200 feet, this state-of-the-art greenhouse produces tens of thousands of pounds of nutritious, sustainable produce year round.
(photo credit: Gerardo Gonzalez)
At full capacity, Vertical Harvest will be capable of producing over 37,000 pounds of greens, 4,400 pounds of herbs, and 44,000 pounds of tomatoes. Its founders say that Vertical Harvest's 30 foot by 150 foot plot of land offers the same growing areas as 23 acres of traditional farmland, and has a fraction of the environmental impact, using 90 percent less water and 100 percent fewer pesticides than traditional farming .-The Verge
Vertical Harvest is developing plans to bring their business and employment model to the eastern United States in the coming year. Meanwhile, back on the range, the effort to continue to offer fresh, local produce to citizens and businesses and provide meaningful employment to all members of the community moves onward and upward:
(photo credit: Clear Creek Group)
Thanks to community support, Vertical Harvest was given the chance to push the boundaries of agriculture. Adding social, educational and environmental aspects pushed staffers to their limits, but they believe they have accomplished something truly groundbreaking.-Jackson Hole News and Guide
*Wyoming State Government statistics
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events.