The Rise and Rise of Vertical Farming

For those who view urban farming as a niche movement, here is some surprising news: according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 800 million people grow fruits and vegetables or raise animals in cities around the world. Urban farms now produce 20% of the world’s food. The report notes that urban farms yield up to 15 times more food per acre than their rural counterparts by reducing obstacles such as insect and animal interference, shorter and less expensive transportation, and more densely planted plots. A startup in Jackson, Wyoming is adding year round growing season to the list of urban farming benefits.

Vertical Harvest of Jackson Hole, recently broke ground on one of the world’s first vertical farms. The three-story stack of hydroponic greenhouses will run unencumbered by Jackson’s harsh winters and four month growing season. With a 365-day growing season and 5 acres of farmland condensed to a 30 x 150 foot (or 1/10 of an acre) plot of land, Vertical Harvest will provide Jackson with up to 100,000 pounds of locally-grown produce. Through pre-purchase agreements, 95% of this produce has already been committed to local restaurants and grocery stores.

The creators of Vertical Harvest, architect Nona Yehia and environmental consultant Penny McBride, are committed to the project’s broad impact on the Jackson community. Not only will they be providing local and sustainable food, but the greenhouse will also provide much needed jobs to the community’s developmentally disabled residents who currently have a 78% unemployment rate. The Vertical Harvest project is not without its high costs. Greenhouses use a large amount of energy, plus limited land and high demand have caused Jackson’s real estate costs to skyrocket. In addition, the town rests on a site of high seismic risk that requires an expensive steel super-structure. However, Yehia and McBride believe the $3.7 million price tag is worth the social and environmental benefits. With the support of city and state leaders, community members, and a successful Kickstarter campaign, Vertical Harvest is well underway. The farm will open in early 2016, with its first crops harvested a few months later.

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