By now, anyone who has even a passing interest in food issues and the environment knows that shipping our fruits and veggies halfway across the country—or importing them from outside the country—leaves a massive carbon footprint. We also know that eating local is a good thing for both flavor and the environment. But what do you do when you live in a cold climate where the normal growing season might only last two months a year?

That’s a problem that the magic of vertical farming can solve. FastCoExist reports that Vertical Harvest, a company in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is currently in the process of realizing one of the world’s first vertical farms. It plans to open the facility in early 2016.

Vertical Harvest’s model will use hydroponics to grow about 100,000 pounds of produce year-round. The small strip of landthat the company is transforming into its three-floor facility is 1/10 of an acre in actual size, but it will produce the equivalent of 5 acres of traditional land-based agriculture. That’s 100,000 pounds of fresh produce for Jackson that the town won’t have to ship in from anywhere else.

Since the town owns the land that Vertical Harvest is building on, the town had to see hard numbers that confirmed growing costs and energy use would indeed be less than the cost of shipping in tomatoes from out of state. The VH system will use conveyor belts to keep moving the plants around and maximize natural sunlight exposure. Since the system doesn’t rely on artificial lighting, that’s a huge cost savings. Also, that conveyor belt system will bring the plants to the workers, instead of the workers having to go to the plants.

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What’s even better for the local community is the jobs this will provide. In the video above, Vertical Harvest spells out its plans to hire developmentally disabled people from within the local community, giving them new employment and community interaction options. Once it’s up and running, Vertical Harvest’s annual crop breakdown will be:

  • 44,000 pounds of tomatoes
  • 20,000 pounds of lettuce
  • 4,400 pounds of herbs
  • 10,000 pounds of microgreens
  • 7,500 pounds of baby specialty greens

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One feature VH is touting is year-round commercial tomato production—so theoretically, no excuses for white, sad tomatoes in the middle of winter. Other features include a rotating living wall, a living classroom, visitor viewing platforms, a year-round community marketplace, and high-volume microgreen production for local area restaurants. The town currently has less than 10,000 residents, but attracts a lot of tourists who also need to eat. Its produce has already been pre-sold to local restaurants, grocery stores, and a hospital in the area.

Co-founder Penny McBride told FastCoExist

“We’re replacing food that was being grown in Mexico or California and shipped in. We feel like the community’s really ready for a project like this. Everybody’s so much more aware of the need to reduce transportation, and people like to know their farmer and where food’s coming from.”

[via FastCoExist, Vertical Harvest]

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