By Karen Hastings
February 2, 2016
It’s a brisk December day in Wyoming as my feet crunch across the earth’s icy crust to a parking garage in the heart of downtown Jackson, the famous ski town surrounded by jagged peaks of the Teton Range. Snow swirls around me, and the Narnia-like landscape sparkles in crisp white. But despite the bitter cold, I’m on my way to a budding urban garden — with a twist.
Bracing against the biting wind, I look up at the three-story glass greenhouse clinging to the south-facing side of the concrete parking garage. Within weeks, this will be a sea of green — brimming with lettuces, basil, parsley, cilantro, and nutrient-dense micro-greens. On the top floor, sweet sun-soaked cherry tomatoes and bulging beefsteaks will provide pops of red — all flourishing as frigid temperatures frost the bare branches outside.
A serendipitous bachelorette party brought these two self-confessed foodies together. But they also quickly connected on their community-minded values and shared interests in sustainability. Penny, an environmental consultant, grew up on a farm in Colorado, and Nona is a local architect, whose experience with her developmentally-disabled brother inspired her to carve out integrative job opportunities in her local community. Together, Penny and Nona decided to channel their passions into Vertical Harvest– a model of sustainable food production that could empower communities around the world.
As well as selling fresh produce year-round at competitive prices, Nona and Penny tell me that Vertical Harvest will hire developmentally-disabled adults among its 20-plus person staff. New employees will undergo training programs that will equip them with transferable skills in customer service and hydroponic farming.