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Anchorage company grows produce year-round in shipping containers

By Lauren Maxwell Photojournalist: Carolyn Hall - 7:48 PM September 30, 2015
ANCHORAGE –

Imagine being able to grow fresh produce in a place like Barrow in the winter time. No sun and freezing temperatures may make that sound impossible, but an Anchorage-based business would disagree.

The company, called Vertical Harvest, has designed a way to grow leafy greens year-round, anywhere in Alaska. Company founder Dan Perpich said he devised the plan after living in a tiny village in northern Canada.

“And I walked into a supermarket in March, and I found a head of lettuce, dark brown and $18, I said, ‘Guys, there’s got to be a better way,” said Perpich.

Vertical Harvest is using specially fitted insulated shipping containers for the task, growing vegetables hydroponically. That means no soil; the tiny seeds are started on pieces of spun rock, just large enough for the roots to take hold. Next, they are placed in narrow trays and fed a mix of liquid nutrients. Chief grower Cameron Willingham said there are numerous advantages.

“No dirt, no weeds, no bugs, no herbicides, no pesticides,” Willingham listed off.

But Willingham says the biggest advantage is the plants are ready to harvest in record time, from seed to market-ready in just six weeks. That means more produce, as many as 24,000 plants in a single year, says Willingham.

Perpich said the containers are getting a lot of interest from rural areas, individuals, Native corporations and health associations that would like to grow fresh produce year-round. Start-up costs, he said, are about $100,000 — which includes installation and several days of training.

There’s also the cost of electricity for the 8.5-kilowatt system. But Perpich said the rates haven’t deterred potential customers. He said the company is building one system for a client in Anchorage and has plans to ship two of the containers to Bristol Bay this spring.

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