An innovative greenhouse that backs up to the Millward Street parking garage now has $500,000 in hand to study expanding into Chicago.
The Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, awarded Vertical Harvest a contract of that sum through its Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge.
The contract program is a partnership with the National Affordable Housing Trust, which presents exciting prospective growth opportunities for the community greenhouse formed a decade ago by valley residents Nona Yehia, Penny McBride and Caroline Croft Estay.
“I think the National Affordable Housing Trust has 1,452 sites that they’re going to be developing in the next 10 years,” said Sam Bartels, Vertical Harvest’s business development director.
“Jackson has always been our proof of concept and our pilot,” she said. “We’ve had people from all over the world contact us on a weekly basis about how they could do this.”
While adding Vertical Harvest-like facilities around the country and planet may be the long-term vision, the product of the grant is initially much more narrow. The half-million dollars will be put toward a feasibility study that will analyze the efficacy of building vertical greenhouses at three existing affordable housing developments in the Chicago area, Yehia said.
The study will assess what model of greenhouse could be integrated into the developments, and what products would best serve the Midwestern metropolis market. It will also look at programs that could be integrated into greenhouses and that provide ancillary benefits for the community, she said.
“Could you put a commercial kitchen in there?” Yehia said. “A food hub? Or even a day care center?”
The existing Vertical Harvest is far from an ordinary business. It’s a public-private partnership, for one, relying on town of Jackson property, and funds from the Wyoming Business Council and philanthropic groups and people. More than a dozen employees at the three-story central Jackson workplace have special needs, and volunteers assist as well.
“Vertical farming is the fastest-growing industry of farming,” Yehia said. “It’s such a nascent field, and it has so much potential impact. We’re really the only ones looking at the social impacts.”
Vertical Harvest’s annual harvest is around 100,000 pounds of produce, all hydroponically grown on 1/10th of an acre.
Yehia anticipates the study, which will be authored by in-house employees, will take about 18 months to complete. Work is set to start in October. This next step of Vertical Harvest’s evolution is “exciting,” she said.
“From the get-go this is what the team had in mind: to grow and replicate this model,” Yehia said. “We’ve always had our eye toward that end goal.”
Yehia’s architectural firm, GYDE Architects, is collaborating on the study.
Editors note: This story has been modified to clarify that the $500,000 award from Fannie Mae was a contract, and not a grant.