Growing a vibrant downtown area

Travis Hines, Bright Agrotech manufacturing coordinator and Farm Wall Laramie project coordinator, works on a grow wall Tuesday afternoon at Bright Agrotech.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

Urban jungle, concrete sprawl, metropolis — cities have a lot of names, but few conjure images of unused agriculture space. Bright Agrotech and the Laramie Main Street Alliance would like to change that.

“Wyoming is a food desert,” Bright Agrotech CEO Chris Michael said. “There’s so much unused vertical real estate out there that could be growing food.”

In conjunction with Main Street, the vertical-horticulture company CEO said he plans to put Laramie on the map as the “grow wall capitol of the world, or the nation — something. Laramie’s going to be on the map.”

He dubbed the initiative Farm Wall Laramie.

“Laramie is such a big part of Bright Agrotech,” said Travis Hines, Bright Agrotech manufacturing coordinator and Farm Wall Laramie project coordinator. “It really gives us a lot of energy and a lot of strength — whether it’s from the (University of Wyoming) or from the downtown. We really wanted to give something back to the community.”

Using funds donated by sponsors and space donated by businesses, Farm Wall Laramie could create green spaces around Laramie by using Bright Agrotech’s grow wall system in publicly visible spaces.

“The model we are using is similar to the (Laramie) Mural Project,” Main Street Executive Director Trey Sherwood said.

Hines said the idea originated with installing a grow wall at Altitude Chophouse & Brewery.

“It’s had such a great reception in the last three years we’ve done it,” he said. “We wanted to expand the reach a little more.”

As the first year of the project, Hines said available supplies were limited. With Main Street’s help, Bright Agrotech put the word out asking if any downtown businesses were interested.

“We received more responses than we anticipated,” Sherwood said. “But we narrowed it down to four recipients this year.”

The first four farm walls will be installed before Laramie Jubilee Days at Coffey Engineering & Surveying, Star Awards & Signs, Travel Inn and Laramie Montessori Charter School, Hines said.

“We got started a little late this year,” he said. “Next year, we’d like to start setting them up as soon as the weather breaks.”

As temporary installments, the farm walls would be taken down at the end of Laramie’s growing season. Bright Agrotech would maintain the plants, and the only cost to the business would be space, electricity and water, Hines said.

A short growing season means most recipe ingredients need to travel in from outside the region, but Michael said the farm wall project could help provide fresh ingredients for local bars and restaurants.

Although the fine print has yet to be worked out, he said he envisioned a process where food and drink providers could gather on a regular basis to select ingredients from the farm walls to use in their establishments.

“We’ll post on our social media where people can get drinks made from the mint grown on these walls,” Hines said.

Sherwood said restaurants might promote which recipes used the farm wall ingredients.

“The sky is the limit,” she said.

Chard, chives, mint and cherry tomatoes are some the plants commonly grown in the vertical system, Michael said.

“Most of the crops are shorter statured,” he said.

But with the farm wall project, Hines said the company was working on a barn-wood trellis idea that could be installed next to the grow wall and help support other types of plants.

“A trellis gives them some support to lift off the ground,” he explained.

Although only four businesses were selected this year, Michael said the farm wall team was already looking at a five-year plan.

“I think we could easily have 50 (farm walls) installed in five years,” he said. “I think (Farm Wall Laramie is) a great model. I would definitely like to see other communities do something similar in the future.”

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