Vertical Harvest, along with the Food Bank of Wyoming, announced a successful pilot and program expansion, sending fresh greens to Wyoming Hunger Relief Partners.
Jon Hume, Vertical Harvest’s Chief Commercial Officer, who is overseeing Vertical Harvest’s expansion into new markets like Maine and Michigan, is also helping to realign the company’s commercial efforts in Jackson, WY, to include more low-income and low-access (LILA) channels. With its “feed locals first” philosophy, Vertical Harvest continues to prioritize local and state distribution of their produce and offers preference to local and regional distributors, as well as community organizations like the Food Bank of Wyoming.
“Our aim is to see the entire community as our customer,” Jon said. “We want to be on the shelf for all our neighbors in the retail setting, and we love working with the local culinary community, but we also want to make sure we’re helping to drive availability, accessibility, and affordability for everyone. And so seeing the first Food Bank of Wyoming truck pull away from the farm loaded with freshly harvested produce was one of the highlights of my career.”
Though the Food Bank of Wyoming currently works with more than 150 Hunger Relief Partners, 19 Mobile Rural Pantries, and multiple food rescue programs, the partnership with Vertical Harvest pilot program initially focused on one monthly pick-up and delivery to the Lander Share and Care Food Bank. Through that experience, Stacey Stebner shared that “the greens sent from Vertical Harvest are just incredible - what a treat to be able to provide our community with such a nutritional powerhouse.” She went on to explain that “we typically have quite a bit of fresh produce, but most of it is not local, and we rarely have greens… and when the volunteers and I checked out Vertical Harvest as a company, we were so impressed with Grow Well, their inclusive employment program, we hope this can be a blueprint for other growers in the region.” Through the pilot, greens arrive fresh within a day of harvest and with the recipe and educational materials from Cent$ible Nutrition Program, Wyoming’s SNAP-Ed, and TEFAP Programs. Cent$ible educators live in communities across the state and teach free classes about healthy lifestyles (and cooking!), as well as work with community partners on projects at gardens, food pantries, and schools.
To date, the Lander pantry has absorbed 225 lbs of greens delivered over the partnership’s first 3 months of operation, but the team is poised to expand access further across the state with the addition of a second pick-up and delivery route. Funds have been earmarked for the effort thanks to the Bank of Jackson Hole and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines’s Member Impact Fund, and the Fresh Food Center in Casper is next on the list, but expansion depends upon finding a qualified CDL driver willing to take the part-time position. If any qualified drivers are interested, please contact Tim Smith at Food Bank of Wyoming, who noted that “helping our neighbors access nutritious meals so that they can thrive is at the heart of what Food Bank of Wyoming does to serve the state, and we’re looking for drivers who are open to work and are excited by the mission.”
Co-founder and CEO Nona Yehia also remarked, “Vertical Harvest is a home-grown Wyoming company focused on creating the future we want from the food we need, and the opportunity to see more of our product reach more Wyomingites, especially those folks facing real hunger - that’s why we’re here.” While the start-up is currently in the middle of their Series B raise, she also noted that original investments from the Wyoming Business Council and a partnership with the town of Jackson made the enterprise possible. “Public-private partnerships like this realize their full potential when state and local initiatives can also be addressed because businesses that are designed into the fabric of their communities have a unique opportunity to impact beyond just economics.”
Both organizations are excited for the next phase of their partnership and to begin thinking even bigger about how they can join forces to mobilize Wyoming’s “community of the willing” to address food security in new and innovative ways across the state.