Linda Janes and Dan Perpich of Alaska-based Vertical Harvest Hydroponics took home US$30,000 to support their business, which uses LED lighting in containers to produce fresh produce in the most remote of locations.
In a video briefing (below), the group explains 95% of Alaska’s fresh produce has to be imported from the continental U.S. or elsewhere, and often takes two weeks before reaching store shelves plus an extra three or four days to reach rural zones.
As it stands, the company estimates around 25% of the fresh produce that comes into Alaska is wasted, and that the lack of fresh produce availability is contributing to health problems in the state.
But through Vertical Harvest Hydroponics’ manufactured containerized growing systems, producers or interested parties can grow 450 heads of lettuce a week, wherever they may be.
“Innovation and entrepreneurship have always been essential ingredients in the success of America’s farmers and ranchers,” said AFBF president Zippy Duvall.
“From the adoption of new business models and the development of new tools and services, to unique adaptations of technology in agriculture, our industry is driven by people with vision who are willing to step forward with fresh ideas.”
Janes described the experience of winning the award as “surreal”.
“We entered into the Strong Rural American Entrepreneurship Challenge last year and certainly didn’t expect to win. However, we were notified a few months later that we were in the top four out of 356 applicants,” she said.
“This weekend, they flew all the four teams into Phoenix to compete for either the Entrepreneur of the Year (decided by the four judges) or the People’s choice award (via online voting). This competition also coincided with the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention and IDEAg Trade Show, which was held at the Phoenix convention Center.
“In fact, our pitches to the judges and full house audience took place on the convention stage, while the convention was in full swing.”
She said her competitors were “exceptional” with great business models and teams.
“It was an unbelievable moment to hear our name called as the winners. We are humbled and thankful. This was a great opportunity and privilege to be in the company of fantastic and brilliant people,” she said.
“It is wonderful to know that so many great entrepreneurs and farmers are working hard to make our country better. This has been a challenging and rewarding experience. We want to thank everyone who has supported us over the last two years.
“We would like to extend a huge thank you to the American Farm Bureau for their entrepreneurial nature in realizing and following through on the important mission of encouraging innovation and supporting our rural communities and our farmers. This win is overwhelmingly for Alaska.”