The first of its kind, Vertical Harvest set out to prove that the origin of our food not only shapes our health, but our community as well. Providing a sustainable solution for fresh produce in the Town of Jackson, Vertical Harvest caught the eye of filmmaker Jennifer Tennican.
Filming the first year of operation, Tennican takes us behind the scenes of co-founders Penny McBride and Nona Yehia’s work to bring the multi-story greenhouse to life in the Town of Jackson, WY in Hearts of Glass.
Prugh: What do you hope to achieve with this film?
Jennifer Tennican: With “Hearts of Glass” we hope to introduce the world to a highly visible, controversial, expensive, and ingenious project of Vertical Harvest of Jackson Hole. In addition to providing a year-round crop of vegetables and fruits to community members, the project was developed to offer consistent, meaningful jobs to Jackson residents with disabilities.
One thing we are excited about is telling the story from various points of view, including some of the employees with disabilities. These are voices we don’t hear from regularly in the media. By giving these folks the chance to speak for themselves, we can deepen the public’s awareness of their capabilities, desires, and needs.
P: What attracted you to do a film on Vertical Harvest?
JT: As a storyteller, I look for engaging characters and untold stories. The common theme running through all my work is community. My films explore how we achieve a sense of belonging and what that gives us.
Vertical Harvest is a project that has engaged and at times polarized the community. The project’s goal is to improve our town by providing literal and figurative nourishment (food and jobs). Whether it will achieve its goal is part of the drama that will unfold over the first year of operation.
Most of all, it’s unique, timely, and in my backyard. The story is chock full of interesting people. It’s THE film for me to make right now with the help of Slow Food in the Tetons.
P: What message do you want viewers to walk away with from the film?
JT: This kind of feels like a spoiler to me.
I would like viewers to walk away from the film feeling a couple of things:
Whether or not viewers agree that Vertical Harvest was a good idea (fiscally, socially, etc.), I hope they can recognize the value of such a visible, expensive and controversial project in bringing a spotlight to members of our community with disabilities. As Eileen Prugh said “it is a gift to a small town.”
If they donated to make the film a reality, I hope they’ll feel proud they helped create a terrific independent documentary.
P: What is your favorite story from filming this?
JT: We filmed the employee orientation several weeks ago and during the presentation Joelle Lazzareschi (Educational Coordinator) and Caroline Croft Estay (Employment Facilitator) played a short video called “Don’t Limit Me.” (Watch the Don’t Limit Me Video)
The YouTube video features Megan Bomgaars, a cast member on the television show “Born This Way.” Megan is a high school student with Down Syndrome and in the video she addresses her school’s faculty. She asks them to teach her life and work skills so she can be independent, to respect her, and to have clear and reasonable expectations for her. Her big message is “everyone matters.”
Many [employees] had a story to share about people having low expectations, saying unkind things or “not getting them.” Watching the video and the reactions of Megan’s audience reminded me of my unconscious biases and the real effect they can have on people.
P: What sort of push-back did you witness from the community concerning Vertical Harvest?
JT: It’s a controversial project in many ways – it’s expensive, it’s untested, it’s a public private partnership – so it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be opposition.
I think that was the time when hard questions were asked about the economic feasibility of the project and whether the use of the land was appropriate. As I understand it, various proposals were in competition, including affordable housing. The selection of Vertical Harvest created some conversation about priorities in the community.
Our goal is to tell a nuanced story about the challenges of the greenhouse’s first year of life through various characters. Those characters will range from enthusiasts to skeptics.
Filming is underway as the Vertical Harvest staff ramps up for the anticipated opening in June. Fundraising and filming will happen concurrently throughout the first year of operation. Post-production will occur during the summer/fall of 2017. Visit www.facebook.com/HeartsOfGlassFilm
Jennifer anticipates a finished film by winter of 2017/spring 2018. Gifts in support of Hearts of Glass should be directed to Slow Food In The Tetons/ attn: Hearts of Glass, Slow Food In The Tetons, PO Box 1087, Jackson, WY 83001.