Nona Yehia, co-founder of the hydroponic urban farm Vertical Harvest, has continued to look towards the future when it comes to both feeding our community and promoting inclusivity.
Vertical Harvest, which grows vegetables all year round in a space that used to be a parking garage in downtown Jackson, recently became GAP certified, which essentially lets them sell to bigger, regional retailers like Albertsons and Smiths. Micro-green production has doubled, and they have gone from selling produce in a 40 mile radius to expanding into Montana and Idaho. “We’ve learned how to make our model work, which helps us be able to achieve all of the impact we want to, from wellness to growing food in the future,” Yehia states.
Vertical Harvest also employs people with disabilities, a core value that has been in place since the beginning. Yehia says, “The biggest thing we’ve achieved is the empowerment of our employees. People who once had few opportunities for upward mobility in their jobs are now managing teams of people, and they’ve been able to achieve so much in our company. Not only are they pioneering something that is important to every community, which is the production of food, but they are gaining experience in the cutting edge of an industry that has the potential to solve some of our biggest challenges, from population growth to water shortages to land scarcity. “
Yehia is most motivated by the kind of impact she can have on people’s lives, whether they are employees or the community members they serve. Recently, a nonprofit called Cultivate has sprouted out of Vertical Harvest as an answer to increasing interest in the farm’s business model. Cultivate aims to promote inclusivity and upward mobility for people with disabilities in their respective communities.
Vertical Harvest has even inspired communities as far away as Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Yehia and her team will begin to design a vertical farm for the urban community this spring, which will hopefully be operational by 2021. For Yehia, the only way to grow is up!