It’s not easy to get a good salad in Alaska—especially during the winter. Between the bitter cold, the piles of snow and very little sunlight, the remote state doesn’t see much in the way of fresh produce for a good portion of the year. The vegetables that do get served, which are mostly imported in from thousands of miles away, are limp, sad and overpriced. But now two companies are hoping to make fresh lettuce available and affordable to Alaskans year-round.
Alaska Natural Organics and Vertical Harvest Hydroponics are both hoping that hydroponic farming, in which plants are grown in water under LED lights, is the solution to Alaska’s produce problems. Vertical Harvest is transforming cargo ship containers into portable grow centers that can be installed anywhere in the state from restaurant basements to remote villages. While Alaska National, which just sold its first crop this past fall, grows its lettuces in a former dairy warehouse near Anchorage—though founder Jason Smith hopes to expand and essentially franchise out smaller versions of his indoor farm across the state.
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Aside from finally giving Alaska residents access to a fresh, crisp side salad, companies like Alaska Natural and Vertical Harvest are essential to the state’s future because they have the capacity to create jobs. According to the New York Times, somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of Alaska’s food supply is imported, which works out to be a loss of about $2 billion worth of potential work for local farmers. If the two companies succeed in their endeavors to make hydroponic crops mainstream in Alaska, it could inspire other would-be farmers and help the state take back some of those employment opportunities.
Recipe pictured: Boston Lettuce Salad with Herbs