Vertical farming tackles food poverty

  • October 11, 2023
  • William Payne

Wyoming hydroponic vertical farming specialist Vertical Harvest together with the Food Bank of Wyoming has completed a successful pilot to tackle food hunger. Initial efforts focused on the City of Lander in Wyoming, and has now expanded beyond the City to 19 further urban and rural locations throughout the state. The success of its local programme means that Vertical Harvest will also expand its efforts in Jackson, WY, and the states of Maine and Michigan.

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 prioritise local and state distribution of their produce, and offering preference to local and regional distributors, as well as community organisations like Food Bank of Wyoming.

“Our aim is to see the entire community-as-our-customer,” Jon said. “We want to be on shelf for all our neighbours 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 Food Bank of Wyoming currently works with more than 150 Hunger Relief Partners, 19 Mobile Rural Pantries, and multiple food rescue programmes, the partnership with Vertical Harvest pilot programme initially focused on one monthly pick-up and delivery to the Lander Share and Care Food Bank. Through the pilot, greens arrive fresh within a day of harvest and with 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 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 neighbours 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 that, “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 realise 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.”