By Annie Fenn
July 20, 2016
Growing with hydroponic farmer Sean Stone at Vertical Harvest.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – The sun has barely risen and Sean Stone is already working away at Vertical Harvest, the hypdroponic greenhouse built on the side of a parking garage in downtown Jackson. Stone checks in with head grower Tim Schutz, climbs the stairs to the second level of the three-story farm, and immediately gets to work checking some seedlings. When he’s told I’ll be shadowing him, he takes it all in stride. “Come on,” Stone said, “we’ll check on the water levels first.”
Stone is one of a dozen or so farmers with intellectual disabilities employed by Vertical Harvest. Before working as a farmer, he says, Stone washed dishes in a local kitchen, and held numerous other jobs in the valley since moving here from Pocatello after high school in 1992. “It’s really calm here,” he says. “It’s not stressful at all. In a kitchen, someone is always yelling at you, telling you the silverware is not clean.” Stone works full time planting, caring for, and harvesting crops.
When Stone’s supervisor arrives, he checks in with her to discuss his work orders for the day. This morning’s objective: Pull some straggling plants and figure out why they aren’t growing. As he plucks a few rows of seedlings from the rotating growing carousel, he shakes his head. “I don’t know why these aren’t growing very good. It’s usually all about the nutrition in the water,” he says.