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June is Pride month here at Vertical Harvest Farms. It’s not only a celebration, but a time to deepen our understanding of the diverse spectrum that makes up human sexuality. While research and education are certainly not limited to one month a year, we view Pride as a purposeful time to learn and broaden our minds and hearts.

Johnny Fifles, Vertical Harvest Senior Farm Associate, has always been outspoken about his community. He agreed to not only share a few thoughts about Pride month (see below), but also a piece of art he recently completed (see above). Featuring the flags of different groups across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, this handmade card captures the true meaning of Pride: being the full, vibrant colorful human being you were born to be!

1. What does Pride mean to you? Pride means to me that everyone should have a right to be who they really are without being judged.

2. Why did you decide to create the Pride card? It was for art class. I always like doing art.

3. In your opinion, what should more people understand about the LGBTQIA+ community? Sexual orientation and gender identity are dimensions of a human being, just as disability and skin are.

4. In your view, what issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community can Pride help shed a light on? That the LGBTQIA+ community should have a right to be safe from ANY harm.

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Screen Shot 2021 05 27 at 11.40.16 AMAs part of our ongoing commitment to explore issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Vertical Harvest recently began a DEI book club — held every Tuesday from 4-5 pm. Open to all Vertical Harvest team members, the group reads and discusses books that delve into topics surrounding racism, sexism, bigotry, and ableism. The team examines one book a season, taking time to probe multiple learnings and insights.

Each week, the team focuses on certain chapters, breaking down the messages within and sharing how the words and ideas impact them personally. The final few weeks of discussion focus on taking action and planning what team members can do to impact change as dominant members of our society. 

A critical part of the meeting also is holding conversations about what change is needed within our company. We’ve discussed ways to embrace more inclusive language, reexamine the process for naming our products, and rethink visuals chosen for marketing purposes. 

This spring, the team read and discussed This Book is Antiracist, a 2020 nonfiction book by American anti-bias antiracist (ABAR) educator, and consultant Tiffany Jewell. The book, aimed at the young adult level and higher, addresses concepts of racism and proposals for anti-racist individual actions and systemic changes.

Team members learned a lot about the history and impact of racism on our country and shared their reactions. “I’ve recognized my priority now is leaving space for others (less privileged) to share their voice,” said Robin Van Houten, farm associate. 

This summer (and in honor of Pride month) the club will read about the spectrum of sexuality and the impact of homophobia and transphobia on individuals and society.

Vertical Harvest Employees outside the Jackson Farm

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While Vertical Harvest has always held a deep commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), we’ve realized that, just like with anything else, if you don’t keep something on the front burner, it will get moved to the back. 

DEI is too important to slide into the back burner!

Key members of our team, including Co-Founder Caroline Croft Estay and February 2021 Changemaker of the Month, Thibaud Sanchez, will soon spearhead a program to keep our DEI always top of mind. Working with The Jackson Hole DEI Collective, they will begin the Compass Training process. This process was developed by Nova Collective, a black-owned, women-owned company devoted to transforming organizational cultures.

Our internal team will use Nova’s training tools to create a custom program specifically for Vertical Harvest. Stay tuned for more details on that as the weeks go on. 

Informal Lunches & Resources

In addition to the formal program in the works, the team recently began informal monthly working lunches. Each lunch features a different DEI theme. For example, employees spent this first quarter of 2021 unpacking what the words Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion actually mean (some learnings from that below). In the second quarter they will move on to other topics, including gender issues, LGBTQ issues, and multigenerational diversity issues. 

The DEI team also is building a resource library of books, podcasts, videos and other resources, which we will soon add to the Inclusion page here on the Vertical Harvest website. We also will open up this very blog to many more diverse voices, both within the company (Voices of Vertical Harvest) and without (Guest Voices). Finally, we are researching ways to actively pursue anti-racism work in our local Teton County community and in our expansion communities across the U.S.

As a company and a nation, as we work to form a more perfect union and a more perfect workplace, we want to always keep the lessons and learnings of DEI in mind. Here are three  key takeaways from the last few months:  

  1. Equity Defined: “Equality” means everyone gets a pair of shoes. “Equity” means everyone gets shoes that actually fit. Solutions and opportunities are not and should not be one size fits all. They must take into account the variables that led to inequity. 
  2. Communities are Not Monolithic: Not every person in a minority group thinks the same as the next. Even here at Vertical Harvest, our disabled employees had very differing views as what terminology we should use to refer to that part of our workforce. While half felt more comfortable with the term “differently abled,” finding it positive and all-encompassing; the other half preferred “developmentally disabled,” finding it less patronizing and more direct. So, we use both!
  3. Lead with Understanding and Meet People Where They Are: We should always be committed to “calling people in” instead of simply calling people out. This means that while we must be vigilant in pointing out racism or cultural appropriation in any form, we should approach these interactions in a kind and inclusive way. 
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Caroline Croft Estay, Vertical Harvest Co-Founder and Director of Diversity and Inclusion, developed and continually evolves the company’s groundbreaking employment model, Grow Well. The blog team sat down with Caroline to learn more about Grow Well and how it’s made a difference in employee satisfaction and retention at Vertical Harvest. Let’s Dive In:

  1. Blog Team: What is the Grow Well Model?
    Caroline: “The Grow Well Model is Vertical Harvest’s customized employment model. Crafted from human resources best practices, lessons learned, and a touch of ingenuity, this model seeks to educate and empower people of all abilities in the workplace and in their community, as well as foster and facilitate a culture of equity and inclusion. The Grow Well Model has three areas of focus : Professional Development (Work Well), Personal Discovery (Be Well), Community Impact (Do Well). These  components unite to form a supportive base that encourages self-discovery, fosters community connections and allows individuals to define an upwardly mobile career path through personal and professional goals.”
  2. Blog Team: How does the Grow Well Model differ from other customized employee training models and career path programs?
    Caroline: “The GWM is more than just growing one’s professional future. Our employment model supports each employee’s personal growth through a variety of programs integrated into the work day as well as access to more self inquiry study on one’s own time. We offer a variety of resources that are always accessible to our employees so they can reach their potential as an individual ultimately adding to the company as a whole. We have quarterly and yearly advocacy initiatives that we engage in together and on our own. This allows for a greater impact. It truly does take a village to empower each one of us to find the passion projects that we can support.”
  3. Blog Team: How has the Grow Well Model helped employee retention?
    Caroline: “Jackson Hole is a ski town. It is a very transient community with many second homeowners and young adults here to ski, climb, fish, and party. Most businesses have a very difficult time retaining good help. That has not been an issue at our greenhouse. In our 5 years of operation we have retained 99% of our employees with different abilities. We have an overall rate of 95% satisfaction of all employees in our company. We strongly believe this has to do with our inclusive culture and the role modeling that is shared among people with and without disabilities.”
  4. Blog Team: How have your differently abled employees helped define your culture?
    “Many of us have found that there is a lot less ego and ‘watercooler talk’ at our place of work. What you see is what you get. Not only do we weave our Vertical Harvest tenets into every day (i.e transparency, connection, integrity), people with different abilities just tend to “shoot it straight.” Again, what you see is what you get. In addition, the consistent timeliness and loyalty to their daily schedule has ‘raised the bar’ for all of our employees. It is not often that any of us are late.”
  5. Blog Team: How have your employees personally benefited from this inclusive employment environment?
    Caroline: “We have seen tremendous improvements across the company as far as quality of life.  Over 100 pounds in weight loss, new relationships, and even an engagement. New hobbies and interests have developed, and we’ve seen a lot more connections to the community across the board. Two years ago one of our employees with a different ability ran for the hospital board and received over 600 votes. This is something he said he was empowered to do from working at Vertical Harvest.”


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Podcasts are ubiquitous nowadays. From politics, to food, to music, to social impact issues, they cover every subject under the sun. When once folks had to pay for scheduled lectures or take classes, podcasts have opened the door to getting expert advice and insights any time, anywhere.

You just need a pair of headphones.

Here at Vertical Harvest, our leadership team has incorporated podcasts into our Grow Well employee development program. It all started with a podcast series on management style. Each week, team members listened to the series independently and then shared their thoughts during weekly team meetings. “We talked about management styles and tactics and decided whether we agreed with what was shared on the podcast — or not,” says Kyra Foley, Vertical Harvest Marketing Coordinator. “As a group we picked out the best insights and discussed how to add these tools and tips to our repertoire of training resources.”

“I think it was so important to get different perspectives from the managers and also (as someone who is not a manager) to voice my opinion on which management styles work best for me in my experiences,” she says. “It was very empowering.”

Sharing and discussing podcasts

The team continues to listen to management podcasts, but the floodgates have opened and Vertical Harvest employees are sharing and discussing podcasts of all sorts now — particularly those focusing on equity, diversity, and other social impact issues. “it’s kind of like a high-level book club,” Kyra says.

Employees of the corporate or greenhouse teams offer relevant and interesting podcast suggestions and Caroline Croft Estay, Co-Founder and Director of Diversity and Inclusion, keeps an ongoing list and schedules them appropriately. Recent podcasts shared and discussed among the Vertical Harvest team include ADA now, Johnnie Lacy, and Yonder lies indigenous past. “We’re trying to expand our podcast vision even larger and listen to things from all across the spectrum,” Caroline says. “It’s also my dream  that Vertical Harvest have its own podcast one day.”

Has a podcast opened your eyes on a certain subject? Have you heard one recently that made you think differently about a social impact issue? We’d love to hear about it! Just email us at with the subject line “Pod recommendation.”

Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash