Social Enterprise Gets Vertical

By Russ Stoddard / Mar 16, 2017

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Social enterprise is about going up, baby—up, up, up, not down—which is why we’re sharing a story about one of the smartest social enterprises we’ve come across recently, Vertical Harvest, along with a moving documentary that tells its tale.

Vertical Harvest is a new urban farm in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. As its name implies, this greenhouse uses a cool design that, like a plant, moves skyward for three stories as it reaches for the sun and maximizes its footprint on pricey resort real estate to grow and sell produce year-round for the community.

Vertical Harvest

Vertical Harvest in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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  • The design is innovative and its futuristic architectural presence is fairly spectacular to the eye. The greenhouse covers just 1/10 of an acre at elevation of 6,000, but through a unique stacked design and hydroponics it can grow the equivalent of five acres farmed the traditional way. In all, Vertical Harvest replaces 100,000 pounds of produce that formerly had to be trucked into the community.

    Pretty cool, right? Well, spoiler alert—it gets even better.

    This greenhouse business supports an intentional and innovative business model that provides meaningful work for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. Vertical Harvest employs 15 individuals with disabilities and customizes employment for each person’s abilities and strengths to create a positive working experience. Its supportive work environment creates new friendships and also breaks down barriers among disabled employees, their non-disabled co-workers, and the community.

    Worker Collage

    Vertical Harvest employees smile while they work. 

    We love it, from its earned-revenue model to its end result of lifting up people in its community. That’s why we signed on to help sponsor the documentary Hearts of Glass, which covers the critical first year of operating Vertical Harvest—challenges, lessons learned, and victories earned.

    Take a couple minutes to watch the trailer for this social enterprise documentary—and get an idea for how inclusion, integration, and “bodacious basil” combine for an inspirational story.

    The film is being made by JenTen Productions in partnership with Slow Food in the Tetons. Jen Tennican is in fundraising mode right now. With principal photography scheduled to wrap in May, she’s about 60% of the way toward the overall $190,000 budget. Hearts of Glass has been selected to pitch at the prestigious American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs on March 31st, where it could gain significant funding. You can wish them well in their efforts—or even take a vertical step up by donating directly to the film at Slow Food in the Tetons.

    Vertical Harvest Workers

    Vertical Harvest Co-Founders, Nona Yehia (left) and Penny McBride (right).

    Hats off to Nona Yehia, Vertical Harvest co-founder and CEO, and her co-founder Penny McBride, for bringing their amazing vision to life. And thanks to Jen Tennican for investing your heart and soul to bringing this story to life.

    (Read a Changemaker interview with Vertical Harvest Co-founder Penny McBride here.)

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    Russ Stoddard

    Russ started Oliver Russell in 1991. He’s committed his career (nearly 30 years) to social responsibility, first inside the corporate world and then as an entrepreneur who’s started four companies and five nonprofit causes. Russ is the author of "Rise Up - How to Build a Socially Conscious Business," and his creative work has been honored with local, regional, and national creative awards. These days, Russ focuses on brand strategy for clients, spreading the Certified B Corp love, and connecting kindred spirits to multiply social impact.