It took seven years to design, strategize and fundraise before Vertical Harvest opened in March 2016. In 2021 — despite the challenges presented by the global pandemic — Vertical Harvest is thriving. The three-floor, vertical hydroponic greenhouse is the first of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere and sits on a tenth of an acre on the south side of a four-story parking garage in downtown Jackson. It has the ability to produce 100,000 pounds of produce annually. Their products include uber-nutritious microgreens such as pea shoots and daikon radish; lettuces, including butterhead and oakleaf; and petite greens from arugula and mizuna to sorrel and tatsoi. Cherry tomatoes and edible flowers round out Vertical Harvest’s offerings.
The greenhouse employs a diverse staff of as much as 40% with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Expanding to bigger urban communities, three new farms are slated to break ground in two years in Westbrook, Maine (outside of Portland), Philadelphia and Chicago.
Walking into the greenhouse off the slushy, gray streets of Jackson in March, one can’t help but bask in the vibrance of the artistically aligned, multi-colored lettuces packed in long carousels spinning slowly like a Ferris wheel along a vertical glass wall. Glowing pastel lights warm the room and illuminate the lime-green uniform shirts that identify the staff packaging lettuces and edible flowers from hanging baskets. It smells slightly musty and alive.
Spread throughout the greenhouse, astute millennials sit socially distanced at roller-desks engaged in a production meeting on their laptops, sipping from sticker-covered Hydro Flasks. Estay explains this is the first week that most employees have been back together in person in a year because the staff is finally vaccinated. “I can’t wait until I can hug every single person,” Estay says. “It’s driving me crazy.”
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