My name is Anna Cavallaro and I am an incoming sophomore. My major is currently undecided. This summer I have the opportunity to intern at a hydroponic farm in Jackson Hole Wyoming called Vertical Harvest. Vertical Harvest is essentially a vertical greenhouse in the middle of the town of Jackson. The hydroponic system that Vertical Harvest uses was born in the Netherlands and is designed to recycle 70% to 90% of the water used in the greenhouse. It also allows the entire greenhouse to be soilless and plants are instead grown on various biodegradable mediums such as hemp or cellulose. The mission of Vertical Harvest is to provide the community with locally grown, as well as environmentally sustainable, vegetables. Vertical Harvest has a very unique employment model that provides meaningful work to people with varying disabilities. There are 30 people on the Vertical Harvest team and of those 30, 17 have some form of intellectual or physical disability. Vertical Harvest runs as a for profit organization, but has a nonprofit soul, and they stand to make a social impact. The integrated employee structure serves as a way to help teach people with disabilities how to provide for the community as well as to learn valuable work skills. In my experience, it has also been an incredible way to relearn how to connect with people and to improve on my ability to compromise and come up with new solutions to problems most businesses do not have.
The work I have been doing as an intern is focused primarily on Vertical Harvests latest project, Cultivate. Cultivate is a program designed to help get the community involved with the greenhouse as well as to educate them on the importance of sustainable agriculture. Cultivate does everything from working with volunteers, to providing information at local hospitals and schools. One of my projects throughout the summer has been to create a Wellness Wednesday program for the Vertical Harvest employees. Because of the different abilities the employees possess some of them are simply not educated on the importance of eating vegetables or getting enough sleep. Each Wednesday I will be presenting a topic regarding how to live a healthy, happy life. I have also been trained on how Vertical Harvest grows microgreens. Microgreens are young forms of veggies, (pea shoots, basil, wasabi, sorrel, chard etc.) that are allowed to grow for a period of one to five weeks, depending on the plant, and are then harvested at their peak nutritional point. Vertical Harvest grows 17 different varieties of microgreens and each one has a unique flavor and nutritional value. Not only have I been able to grow the microgreens, but I have also been able to educate the community on them during microgreen tours. One of the goals Vertical Harvest has is to remarket vegetables and change the way people think about them. For example; we all are vaguely aware that beets are healthy, but most people don’t know how much more nutritional value beets have if they are harvested after two weeks in their microgreen form. The microgreens are being marketed with the intent to change how we eat veggies. In the last month I have learned so much about hydroponic farming, microgreen nutrition, and the importance of learning to work with people of all abilities. I am excited to see where the next few months take me!
Experiences like Anna’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff