Join Alaric Overbey, Director of GreensideUp Farm, as he discusses the transformative potential of vertical farming in addressing food security issues in underserved communities. Through his experiences in traditional farming and his passion for education, Alaric shares valuable insights on healthy eating habits and the innovative micro-farm model developed by GreensideUp Farm. Discover how education, community involvement, and partnerships with local organizations and grocery stores play a vital role in creating a more equitable food system. This eye-opening podcast episode sheds light on the power of vertical farming as a tool for positive societal change and provides inspiration for those interested in sustainable and equitable food systems.
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- Discover how Alaric Overbey and Greenside Up Farm are tackling food security issues through vertical farming technology.
- Learn about the innovative micro-farm model that strategically places farms close to the demand for fresh produce.
- Explore the importance of education and community involvement in addressing food access challenges.
- Find out how Greenside Up Farms partners with grocery stores to provide fresh produce directly on their shelves.
- Gain insights into the Local Feed Purchase Program and its impact on local farmers and the community.
- Uncover the transformative project of converting a produce unfriendly grocery store into a vertical grocery farm.
- Understand the significance of education and partnerships with organizations like the Culinary Academy and Nevada Partners.
- Discover how Greenside Up Farms is making a difference in fighting food deserts and promoting a sustainable and equitable food system.
“I never really even had a real understanding or relationship with food desert. So really going out there and seeing a food desert and then really wanting to kind of do research on the cause of those things, I just started doing a lot of research on food security, what happens to these communities, how it happens to these communities, and then what's being done to fix these communities.”
“Really for a lot of communities, it's really starting off with the education, understanding what food access is and then how do you start to reclaim that and developing a model around that. So it's not just saying, hey, you put a farm over here, you put a grocery store over here in this food desert, it's going to fix the problem. Harry Duran: Sure. And that's what a lot of people think from the outside looking in.”
“And I don't think there's one system that fits all. I think it's a combination of utilizing all of these systems and really using that to address the issue of access to food because there's a very economic aspect of that that a lot of them is missed.”
Alaric's Website - https://greensideup.farm
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[0:00:03] Harry Duran: And just so you know that if you need if you feel a need to do a second take on a question, this is not live, obviously, so we're going to edit it and clean it up in post production. So if you want to restate your answer or you need to take a break or you need to take a drink of water, it's pretty conversational and pretty casual, so don't feel like you need to be. We'll get started. So Alaric Overbey, director at Greenside Up Farm. Thank you so much for joining me on the vertical Farming podcast.
[0:00:32] Alaric Overbey: Thank you. I appreciate that invitation.
[0:00:36] Harry Duran: So we met at Indoor Echon, and you got a lot of attention there because you were hosting as well. So I'm wondering if that was your first indoor egg con conference.
[0:00:48] Alaric Overbey: It wasn't my first, actually. This was my second conference. The first one was the first time. It was in Las Vegas, I think, 2019, and I was on a panel then.
[0:00:57] Harry Duran: Okay, and what was your take this year? Did you notice any difference in when you attended last time?
[0:01:06] Alaric Overbey: The amount of people that were there, and I think that the crowd was a lot more diverse.
[0:01:14] Harry Duran: Okay. And how did the panel get organized? I had a brief chat with Mary Catherine, who was on the panel with you as well. And to be honest, that was like, one of the highlights. I was talking to her about that, the panel, and it was almost like the last panel of the last day. But it was very well attended. And I think it talked specifically about the challenges facing people are facing on the ground. Because I don't know how many of the other sessions you attended, but obviously a lot of it is like the big companies, the big issues and the big opportunities. And so I'm wondering what your take was and how the panel came to be organized.
[0:01:50] Alaric Overbey: So it actually started off on LinkedIn.
[0:01:53] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:01:54] Alaric Overbey: Indoor AG had posted something about the conference and about having people coming out and having a conversation, and I kind of responded. We're like, well, everybody's not in that conversation.
[0:02:06] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:02:07] Alaric Overbey: So Kyle Barnett reached out to me. I had known Kyle for a few years, kind of online. He reached out to me and we did a podcast, and I kind of like, hey, what do you think about doing a Food Desert panel yeah. To really kind of talk about some of the true issues when it comes to food security and how Vertical Farming and CEA can address that specific problem.
[0:02:37] Harry Duran: Obviously, they ran up the chain and they put it together. And Nona, who's been a previous guest on the podcast Nona yeah, she's done some great work with her company as well, and so I think it went really well. And I'm wondering what the feedback was from folks that attended.
[0:02:53] Alaric Overbey: It was great. We still have very active conversations from the conference we've been in steady communication with several other companies that were there. We've established several partnerships out of that and working on a couple of other partnerships out of that. So it was very beneficial to really have an opportunity to grab that level of individuals in this industry and to be able to take them around to see really what the industry I feel is designed to address.
[0:03:28] Harry Duran: Yeah, I was chatting with a friend of mine, ali Danielli from harvest sound like, oh yeah, you work with ali as well?
[0:03:36] Alaric Overbey: Yeah, that's my guy right there. I love ali.
[0:03:40] Harry Duran: So let's rewind the clock back a little bit. Obviously, I'm guessing you didn't start your career in indoor farming. It sounds like you had a couple of different jobs leading up to it. So I'm wondering if you could give us a little of the maybe 62nd overview of how you made your way into this industry.
[0:04:01] Alaric Overbey: Man I'm from california, the bay area, so I've been primarily working in the it industry. So in the early two thousand s, I was doing data center optimization and cloud and backup recovery. So I was also a solution specialist for large It companies, helping them transition from excel into CRM systems and introducing them to cloud and backup systems as opposed to like taping backup. In 2015, moved to Dallas, working for a company, rack space. I had a coworker who lived in south Dallas and I drove her home one day. I was living in the galleria area and I drove her home one day. Man and it was like when I crossed the bridge at Martin Luther king and malcolm X, just like the whole world changed over there. Yeah, there were no stores, a lot of homeless, just a lot of people, just corners. And even though I'm from neighborhood or whatever, but in California it was just very different. I grew up with my grandmother who had a garden in her backyard. I could walk down the street to my neighbors, there was all these peaches and plums and comquats and different stuff. So I never really even had a real understanding or relationship with food desert. So really going out there and seeing a food desert and then really wanting to kind of do research on the cause of those things, I just started doing a lot of research on food security, what happens to these communities, how it happens to these communities, and then what's being done to fix these communities. And in 2015, there was just no activity, there was no action. There was a city begging for other stores to come into these communities to try to solve the problem, and they weren't getting a lot of buyers.
[0:05:54] Alaric Overbey: At the same time, I was introduced to vertical farming through tower garden, so I had a coworker who was part of juice plus in tower gardens, so that was really my first introduction to vertical farming. And that's really kind of what pushed me into that industry where I was basically combining what I learned in the It industry with data center optimization and with vertical farming and understanding that food desert is about optimizing where food is grown. And so that's how I kind of came up with really focusing on these areas that are particularly marginalized, struggles with grocery stores, struggled with access to produce and things like that. I took it from a very educational perspective, saying, hey, if you start to educate, start to train these communities on this new technology, they'll eventually start to develop their own solutions for how to fix their own problems.
[0:06:48] Harry Duran: Yeah. And how much progress did you make while you were still in Dallas? And can you talk a little bit about any of the initiatives you were able to put in place there?
[0:06:57] Alaric Overbey: So, in Dallas 2015, they actually had ordinances out there that you couldn't grow food in your backyard or your front yard. I mean, there was an ordinance against it, and you couldn't grow food at your yard or your home and then resell it at a farmers market or anything like that. I'm coming to find out. This was almost a standard around the country around that time. So a lot of the municipalities then, it started in early 2016 through the USDA program, they started opening up urban garden spaces, urban farming spaces. But what you had was because there was no structure to it, you had an influx of everybody now want to jump in and do community gardens. Now you just had ridiculous community gardens popping up at schools, in neighborhoods, every vacant lot that you can find in Dallas, you had these communities now people in these communities fighting over the same little pool of money that was now being offered for urban farming.
[0:08:00] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:08:01] Alaric Overbey: But there was no real communication in between. It's like, hey, I want to do this, I want to do this. There was no system to it. What we did is we took advantage of the fact that they came out with that. And I focused on the vertical farming side. So me and my business partners, we basically quit our jobs at Rackspace. We got us a two story loft in downtown Dallas in Deep Ellen. We moved in together and we started growing on the rooftop.
[0:08:29] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:08:30] Alaric Overbey: So we wind up setting up one of the first rooftop vertical farms in Texas.
[0:08:34] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:08:36] Alaric Overbey: And working directly with the schools. When me and my partner separated, I actually stayed in Deep Elm, and I got another location down the street where I had about a 4000 square foot building storefront where I was doing both vertical farming. I was curating art, and then I also had a yoga studio. Okay. I had all this in one. And it was really just kind of 2015. There was just not a lot of people in this space, and there's probably no black folks in the space at all during that time. And so kind of being in development, just really kind of just making connections. And we hosted different types of events. I used to be doing down there, used to do the wine walk. I used to do salad parties, different things where people came in, cut off the towers, had a salad, had a wine. So it was really then combining that with the yoga and the health and all of those things, but again, it was just a little too much too soon. So it was a challenge with developing a workforce and training and really kind of getting it to a commercial level where it was actually viable. So I wind up moving to Las Vegas. After that.
[0:09:52] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:09:53] Alaric Overbey: Because I just seen that Las Vegas was a food desert within a desert.
[0:09:59] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:10:00] Alaric Overbey: I was like, well, shoot, if anybody got a problem with food, Las Vegas do. So let me go all the way here to Las Vegas and pitch the same thing out here.
[0:10:07] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:10:08] Alaric Overbey: So that's how I wind up getting in Las Vegas in 2017. 2018.
[0:10:15] Harry Duran: When you arrived in Las Vegas, having had the experience of what happened in Dallas and what you learned there, were you clear that this was going to be the next step for you and that you still felt that this model was viable, that vertical farming was the future and this is something that you wanted to continue doing?
[0:10:34] Alaric Overbey: Absolutely. Coming to Vegas, it was even harder than being in Dallas. At least in Dallas there was some type of muscle memory when it comes to agriculture.
[0:10:46] Harry Duran: Okay? Yeah.
[0:10:47] Alaric Overbey: So you have to think Dallas. In the southern states, there's a history of farming and agriculture. There's land. So you have people who had farmland in their families for hundreds of years. They just didn't want to do no farming no more coming to Las Vegas. This is a place where there is no history of agriculture like whatsoever. In southern Nevada, there's no history of any type of commercial farming as far as food. They do grain and cows and stuff like that. But when it comes to growing their own food, there is no history of it. So even the people who are coming here from other states, that generational gap between farming and today was so big that you kind of had to start from scratch.
[0:11:34] Harry Duran: Sure.
[0:11:35] Alaric Overbey: And you couldn't start from scratch in the dirt. You have to start from scratch vertical.
[0:11:40] Harry Duran: Indoors.
[0:11:41] Alaric Overbey: Yeah, indoors. I pedaled around saying, like an old salesman saying selling. Like if I was a used car salesman, I'm walking around with a tower on my back, pretty much, and going to different locations and restaurants and hotels and speaking at city camp, speaking at the city, like, hey, guys might want to look at vertical farming. It's coming. And this was 2018, so I got some towers in some different places. I met up with my business partner who had a nonprofit called youth Outdoor Unity, who was already working in some of the schools. And so I introduced the vertical farming to him, and we started putting these around in the schools and stuff like that, getting attention. But still, it was a very slow moving process.
[0:12:31] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:12:32] Alaric Overbey: And then at the same time, you had companies like Urban Seed, Oasis and Oasis Biotech just popped out here, and Urban Seed and Oasis Biotech were huge failures. And so it left with bad taste. It kind of left a bad taste.
[0:12:52] Harry Duran: In people's mouths for folks that may not know about those companies. And to whatever extent you know, anything that may have happened, if you had to kind of look back and see what were they trying to do? And in your opinion, why do you think they did not succeed?
[0:13:14] Alaric Overbey: There was a lot of hype going around in the industry around this time, 2017 for vertical farming. It was hip. It was a new thing. So it was taking community gardens to the next level, but trying to apply an economic model to it. But they were targeting the Strip, so they're targeting casinos and high end. So early in this stage, the price point and the operational costs were ridiculous at this time. So they couldn't get under $16 for a head of lettuce. That gives you a very small market to operate in.
[0:13:58] Harry Duran: Yeah. That's some fancy lettuce.
[0:14:00] Alaric Overbey: Yeah. But my guy, Jim, one of the things they came out and said is that the reason that we're here is because Las Vegas can afford our price points, the streets can afford our price points. But that didn't really turn out to be that case. You look at the large operational costs of that and then a lot of the logistical issues that kind of went into that, that's what they were running into. Workforce, not able to get a viable workforce. Because, again, this is a very new industry, so it's not something that you go to school for. And then nobody had created any. ITT technical institutes for people to go to school for real quick. So you get in the industry, that was the biggest thing. So now what you're doing is that you're asking for regular wage workers to come in and do kind of like some high tech AG work, but they're not trained enough to be able to do it. You're not training them to basically pay them enough to be able to do it.
[0:14:55] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:14:55] Alaric Overbey: And so those were some of the problems with both of those companies. Oasis Biotech was at one point in time, the largest vertical farm in the country.
[0:15:05] Harry Duran: Wow.
[0:15:06] Alaric Overbey: And it was a matter of them kind of being too big too fast. And one of the other things with a lot of these organizations, I think that they miss some of the other fruits of indoor AG that some of the other locations and spaces that have a lot of different opportunities. That because of the capital investment. Saying and the investors in these organizations, they're basically pushed to get a quick return.
[0:15:33] Harry Duran: Definitely.
[0:15:34] Alaric Overbey: So that's what they focus on. So it's not about really solving a problem or what the community might need and how this might be able to serve saying a larger problem. It was about how do we immediately fix the fact that, hey, there's a demand for produce. Everybody's on this organic thing and now Monsanto is in. So everybody's trying to fight against an alternative to what Monsanto is doing. So it was all knee jerk reaction industry real quick. Like, let's build these things real quick, let's get them out there real quick. My mindset on all of that was in learning that was that you're trying to fight a big war with a big army, so it's going to take a lot of big resources in order to pull that off and a lot more time. So I kind of came in with a more of an Art of War mentality. Basically developing multiple micro farms that were basically strategically placed close to where that demand was.
[0:16:38] Harry Duran: Yeah, that makes sense.
[0:16:40] Alaric Overbey: So that's always been my model. By basically keeping it small, keeping it manageable, small workforce that you can easily be deployed or redeployed or moved. I think it would make the industry a lot more agile.
[0:16:56] Harry Duran: So the current project is Greenside Up Farm. And then there's also Vertical Life Farms. Are those two different organizations, same organization.
[0:17:04] Alaric Overbey: So those are my evolutions, how I've evolved. So I started off with Dallas Urban Farms in Las Vegas. In Dallas. And then when I split them, I've been operating Vertical Life Farm. And then I had a nonprofit called The Farm, which is the Farm is food access and reclamation model.
[0:17:21] Harry Duran: Okay?
[0:17:22] Alaric Overbey: That's the core of basically reclaiming the food industry.
[0:17:26] Harry Duran: Talk a little bit about that idea. What made you come up with that and what did you get accomplished with that initiative?
[0:17:36] Alaric Overbey: Really for a lot of communities, it's really starting off with the education, understanding what food access is and then how do you start to reclaim that and developing a model around that. So it's not just saying, hey, you put a farm over here, you put a grocery store over here in this food desert, it's going to fix the problem.
[0:17:55] Harry Duran: Sure.
[0:17:56] Alaric Overbey: And that's what a lot of people think from the outside looking in. They just need more grocery stores that'll fix it. They just need a farm over there that'll fix it. Not understanding that these problems didn't happen overnight, that's the thing. So they're not going to fix overnight. It's not going to take a one time fix all solution. It's the same thing where if it took ten years to solve this problem, it's going to take 20 years to fix this problem. And it's easier done taking this in small chunks where you look at first the training and education and really doing community development and community involvement to really introduce the community to a whole different way of eating and feeding themselves. Because a lot of these communities have been trained to eat a certain way. There's certain behavior patterns, there's certain buying habits. All of those different little demographic issues go into really kind of solving that. And the industry itself hasn't looked at that. Why? Because it's not the industry's problem. So if you don't have a problem being hungry, if you don't have a problem with the food, if you don't have a problem being food insecure, then your solution is right.
[0:19:14] Alaric Overbey: So your solution isn't designed to solve that problem, although it has the ability to easier and with less money than it does to want to tackle this whole global hunger and the year 2050, and we're going to need a land mass aside to South America, that song is kind of mantra that's out there now. So that's the mantra out there. So everybody hustle in that mantra. But when it comes to really looking at look how much money you have reached, look how much money you've gotten in this industry over the last five to ten years. It's been a ridiculous amount of money that's been poured into this industry, and with almost zero return on investment, a lot of them. Yeah, and they're okay with that. And for us, I always looked at it like, man, you do 10 million for this company. I could have did ten $1 million farms.
[0:20:19] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:20:22] Alaric Overbey: And had a much larger impact. That's really the perspective that we kind of look at it from. It's really like, how do you start to allocate those resources? How do you start to allocate those funds? And what is the actual objective? Is the objective to actually solve a problem, or is it just to make money?
[0:20:40] Harry Duran: Yeah, that's a good point. I want to touch a little bit about this idea of almost like not knowing any better. And for a lot of these communities, for people that grew up in food deserts, I grew up just outside New York City, and I've lived in New York City. And so I'm familiar with the bodega at the corner, how you go in there, and you're not going in there for the freshest produce and stuff, and at least there you have some access to some of it. But it's also like, if you're not educated on nutrition, if you're not educated on the value of fresh produce and nutrients and all this stuff, it literally starts at the home and where what you were given access to growing up, the human body is very resilient because I've made it through many Happy Meals and Lucky Charms. The body can survive, but that's not necessarily we're not getting nutrition. We're getting what the marketers have strategically placed in the shelves at the cheapest price. .1 of the things that stood out for me when we took a tour of one of the groceries in las vegas was a blue sun kissed. I didn't even know they made blue sun kiss. Come on. Is this, like, the best? And when you think about the irony that the brand name is called sun kissed, like, oh, you get this vision of this oranges and florida and stuff, and it's a blue carbonated drink. I was like, yeah, very far from it. So talk a little bit about like in our neighborhoods. I'm latino myself and just thankfully had more as much as I was the american way in terms of the food when I was growing up as well.
[0:22:25] Harry Duran: Thankfully, I had sold some of my cultural food, my rice and beans and the appreciation for that. But can you talk about the importance of how, like you said, you could drop the fresh produce in the neighborhood and you can create the relationship between the market, but if the people that walk in there on a day and day to day basis don't see that that is important in their own lives, that's really where it starts.
[0:22:54] Alaric Overbey: Absolutely. When we took the trip over to mario, well, either one of the grocery stores one thing you didn't see in there, and this is the fastest moving product in grocery stores across the country is packaged salads. Neither one of these locations carry those things. Yeah, because again, it kind of goes back to, like you said, about access and habits, cultural reference. One thing that especially out here that you noticed about the hispanic community is that there's still a lot of very close connection to its culture. Yes. The culture itself. And the food itself is primarily vegetables. Vegetables are used to season everything in the suspicious dish. For african americans, for example, it's been a little different. So there's this habit, soul food.
[0:23:55] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:23:57] Alaric Overbey: Soul food is the staple of that barbecue and ribs, collard greens and mustard greens that you cook for 3 hours. So by the time you eat them, they got no nutritional value left. That habit. That's the muscle memory when it comes to food. So that's when I was saying about the educational piece. That's why eating what we do is that we're probably the only company I ever seen really doing, like, collard greens on vertical farms.
[0:24:30] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:24:31] Alaric Overbey: And we don't let them grow so big, for example, because they don't understand that we think that big is better. But the reason that they let them grow so big is because you had so many people they had to feed with just saying one plant, for example.
[0:24:47] Harry Duran: Sure.
[0:24:47] Alaric Overbey: So let me let this plant get as big as it can and I could chop it up and I could feed several people saying, now with this big collard green. But what that does is that you start to add in more salt, you add in oils, you add fats, you add all these things that now take whatever little nutritional value is left in that plant is now completely smoked out. That's created health issues in these communities. And that's one of the things I discovered in Dallas, man, when I started doing the research on the amount of diabetes fibromyalgia, just all the different diseases and ailments mental issues and everything that was related to food and what they're putting in their body and what they have access to putting in their body and the habit of taking what they have access to and even making it worse than what it is normally and making it even worse and then ingesting that into your body. They had the highest rate of amputees from diabetes in Dallas. So now I'm looking at this from a very community overall, a high level community dish. Now, I'm saying, okay, you have this community. They don't got no good food, you know what I'm saying? They're already sick from the food that they've been eating. Now they're being hobbled. They don't even have the means physically to get up and do anything different now. Now they're completely dependent on the system, and then the mortality rate is extremely high, so they're eating to die as opposed to eating to live. And that's what I started to see in these communities. And I'm like, there's no way you can change that until they change what they're eating. Because now you're passing diabetes, for example.
[0:26:40] Alaric Overbey: These numbers in diabetes was already ridiculous, but now you got genetically passed down childhood diabetes, which that term itself doesn't make sense because diabetes is something that you get from eating a certain way over a certain period of time, and your body saying, you didn't mess me up. Now you have kids being born with that. Now that's a ridiculous problem. Now it's a mortality problem. It's like, hey, now you're saying if you start to look at that on a timeline, you really start to look at that for a community like that, is that that community is dying. Like, literally, that's been my focus. You got to come in. You got to do something different. Coming in and doing something different and taking it from the education to the economics. You can't do it without making it economic for the people in the community.
[0:27:46] Harry Duran: So talk a little bit about alert about the origins of Greenside Up farms and also the partners that you're working with now and what the organization looks like.
[0:27:59] Alaric Overbey: So Greenside Up was a combination of seeds that I planted out here in Las Vegas previously with my business partner, who was running a nonprofit called youth Outdoor Unity, and then the experience that I picked up in Oklahoma over the last three years operating focused urban farms. So one of the things out here that happened in Vegas with me was I reached out to a guy out in Oklahoma City in northeast Oklahoma, who had just shut down a large grocery store, making it the 10th largest food desert in the country. And so he was getting ready to build another grocery store. I reached out to him on LinkedIn, like, hey, I got an idea for you. Instead of just building another grocery store, how about we install a vertical farm in there? Yeah, he liked the idea, flew me out there to Oklahoma. We had some conversations with him and his wife. They had a chain of grocery stores, and they actually built two grocery stores from the ground up that are like state of the art grocery stores with thermodynamic heating and all type of stuff. Bad grocery store. And so they were in the process of designing a new grocery store, and I introduced this to them where it's like, hey, it's not about just even growing the food, but I want to come in and I want to be able to train the community on this type of agriculture, this type of farming. This food will now go directly on the shelves in the store. So for you as a grocery store, I'm helping you as far as on a lot of your logistical issues when it comes to sourcing and waste and all of that. Yeah, that just to help eliminate that. At the same time, it's giving you the opportunity to introduce a better quality of produce than your competitors are basically offering at Whole Foods and Sprouts in this particular community. So now what that also does is that's like, hey, all these people who were previously going over there to Whole Foods and Sprouts, I'm like you guys over there growing better produce at a better price.
[0:29:47] Alaric Overbey: I'm going to go over there and get that. So now you create more economics in that community by bringing outside money in.
[0:29:53] Harry Duran: Sure.
[0:29:54] Alaric Overbey: So that was the model. Unfortunately, the owners came down with Lyme disease.
[0:30:01] Harry Duran: Oh, no.
[0:30:02] Alaric Overbey: Yeah. So got real sick, project stalled, and they wind up selling all their grocery stores. So what I wind up doing is like, instead of just picking up and leaving, which is what I wanted to do, I was already kind of invested in the community.
[0:30:20] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:30:20] Alaric Overbey: I was already there. I was still wanting to say, hey, let's grow some food. So I actually wind up buying and picking up a five acre farm out there where I had a regular farm in the soil. It was an organic farm, and it was already operating farm. They just didn't have the manpower to people to operate it. But it was five acres that had 930 x 100 high tunnel hoop houses.
[0:30:50] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:30:53] Alaric Overbey: Field of strawberries, okra patches, a little bit of everything. So that gave me an opportunity to really kind of understand farming from two aspects. I didn't have any experience with that type of agriculture, but I needed to understand both the soil aspect, the challenges of farming that way, whether it's being in the soil or being in the greenhouse, the amount of manpower it took, you know what I'm saying, to really operate that. And it was ridiculous. It was ridiculous.
[0:31:23] Harry Duran: And also the dependency on the environment, right?
[0:31:26] Alaric Overbey: Yes.
[0:31:27] Harry Duran: And the conditions.
[0:31:28] Alaric Overbey: Yeah. And so being in Oklahoma, I had ice, freezes and snow and just lost old crops and stuff like that. I didn't just lose them. I got to go clean that stuff and pull it all up and then redo the soil and all. So it was grueling. I had three of the houses that were just all indeterminate tomatoes, and I couldn't walk 50ft in there without picking £50.
[0:31:53] Harry Duran: Wow.
[0:31:55] Alaric Overbey: So I needed a lot of people to be able to pull that off. So that gave me a good understanding of the labor intensity that it took for operating the farm. So having that knowledge base and then combining that knowledge base with understanding the controlling environment, vertical farm industry allowed me to kind of come back out here because now Vegas was right. Now, for the last two years, that's all they've been talking about out here is vertical farming. I didn't want to hop on this whole vertical farming thing, but had no idea how to do it.
[0:32:27] Harry Duran: Yeah, nothing like a pandemic to shake things up.
[0:32:32] Alaric Overbey: Exactly. So coming out of that, their whole mentality changed because now it's like, hey, you guys import 98% of all your produce. You got the fire marshal saying that, hey, it's I 15, shut down. Las Vegas will have three days worth of food left.
[0:32:46] Harry Duran: Wow.
[0:32:47] Alaric Overbey: So now, again, it's that knee jerk reaction to a problem.
[0:32:50] Harry Duran: Sure.
[0:32:53] Alaric Overbey: Now these ideas pop up. Oh, let's drop a shipping container over here. Let's drop a shipping container over here. No workforce, no understanding of heat loads and environmental factors. So it's like, yeah, we can just drop it over here to work and just flip a switch. And that's what they've been looking for, but that's not what happens. So that's kind of where they're at. So I got involved with some of the projects out here that's been initiated by the city of Las Vegas, city of North Las Vegas, and a lot of these different nonprofits when it comes to specifically focus on these food areas. And then the fact that the USDA Arpa Monday got a lot of funding that they did have to do something with in this area. So I got on the committee to kind of be a sounding board to kind of listen to and kind of help guide through some of the process. So that's kind of what we've been doing out here now. It's really kind of helping with the city with our initiative and really kind of get the city kind of focus on what we're doing on a grassroots level.
[0:34:00] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:34:01] Alaric Overbey: Because initially, a lot of the stuff has been initiated out here not by the people in the community, but by the businesses. The two shipping containers that you've seen over there know who pay for those? MGM. So MGM bought those ship containers and put them over there because they wanted access to that program.
[0:34:25] Harry Duran: Sure.
[0:34:28] Alaric Overbey: So, again, that stops. That's where that demand is. Yeah.
[0:34:34] Harry Duran: How's that project work? You want to talk a little bit about, for the benefit of listener, those containers, referring to a little bit about what that program is about.
[0:34:44] Alaric Overbey: So what they did over there, there's an area called it's called the Historic West Side of Las Vegas.
[0:34:50] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:34:51] Alaric Overbey: And this is actually where a lot of Las Vegas started, but also during the 60s, there was also legalized segregation. So when you start to have people like Eddie James, Sammy Davis Jr. Rat Pack, they could perform on the Las Vegas side inside the casino. But as soon as they were done, they had to go back to the other side of the track. They had to go back to West Las Vegas, where you didn't have the same housing and everything like that. But what wind up happening is that that side of town kind of developed its own Las Vegas. So that's where you had, like, the first integrated casino, which was the Duran Rouge.
[0:35:34] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:35:35] Alaric Overbey: That's where that started off at.
[0:35:37] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:35:37] Alaric Overbey: Sammy Davis had boarding houses over there, and other artists used to go over there. So it was a bustling, thriving area at one point in time. Then people just started moving away. What happens in these areas? No other businesses coming in around. So there's been this 100 year plan about revitalizing that area because now.
[0:36:03] Harry Duran: It'S.
[0:36:03] Alaric Overbey: An eyesore for the state. I mean, it's one of the worst kind of areas. And to be wettened up right against the strip like a stone's throat. Hey, we might need to start to work on that problem over here a little bit now. So they have this whole plan. I'm starting off with James Gate Park and J Street and some of those other areas where they're looking at how to start to revitalize them. The Janet Gate Park was a small strip. It's about 5 miles on the side of the pit, right next to the freeway. They shut the park down probably five years ago because it just got overran by homeless and crime. So they wind up gating up the park. That's why there's a big gate around the park. Nobody can go to the park.
[0:36:44] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:36:45] Alaric Overbey: So their plan was to develop that into almost a farming corridor. So two shipping containers is the first installation. The second installation is supposed to be a cooperative grocery store. And then the third installation is supposed to be a three story, multi use vertical farm through vertical harvest by Nola.
[0:37:11] Harry Duran: Oh, yeah. Okay.
[0:37:13] Alaric Overbey: So that's been the plan, how that works and where that's going. It's a challenge. It's a challenge. We're trying to help the city kind of work through those challenges by, again, being very kind of grassroots and kind of looking at how do you do this? Where you incorporate more of the community into that development, where it doesn't feel like a gentrification.
[0:37:38] Harry Duran: Sure, yeah, that makes sense. Talk a little bit about present day and the work that Greenside Up Farm is doing and what the current plans and the roadmap looks like.
[0:37:51] Alaric Overbey: So one of the things we wanted to bring out of that conference and one of the reasons for that tour was that I had this idea of everybody knows what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It has kind of a negative connotation now, but I looked at that as saying, hey, here's an opportunity for the industry to actually sit down somewhere for a minute and actually solve a problem. Bring your resources. If we was able to bring because we all in this together, so if we was able to bring just a little bit of our resources together to look at, hey, how do we address this problem? How do we collect the data on addressing this problem? If we had the data and the information on addressing an actual problem, you can scale that. You can scale that data. You can apply that to other end, you can apply it to other areas, other scenarios, because now you have an actual working model. And I don't think there's one system that fits all. I think it's a combination of utilizing all of these systems and really using that to address the issue of access to food because there's a very economic aspect of that that a lot of them is missed. And so what we've done is looked at first developing almost a microscale micro farm model, and then alongside that, we're developing the workforce development and education model along with it. And alongside of that, we're attaching the community development model where it's educating the community on what's coming, what's happening, educating the community on some of the health things. We work with a lot of very we've made very strategic partnerships both in the food industry. So we're here at the Culinary Academy that's right across street from us. Nevada Partners is a workforce development stem center, community development organization.
[0:39:58] Harry Duran: Which we got a tour of during that as well.
[0:39:59] Alaric Overbey: Yeah, so they offer a lot of different programs in here. So everything from housing to jobs to health. And so that allowed us to kind of put ourselves in a position where we can actually display what healthy food means to the community from a very community standard, from a community output area. So they're already doing the output. And so all we did is included the fact that their whole conversation when it comes to the health problems and everything like that is all focused on food security. My whole thing is like, hey, that's nice and all, but at some point you have to start to have the conversation about securing the food. So that's kind of where we're at now. We're saying, hey, food security, you've already identified the problem. We can have a conversation about the problem over and over and over again.
[0:40:53] Harry Duran: Sure.
[0:40:54] Alaric Overbey: So now let's take a piece of that and say, hey, here is over here. Now we want to start talking about how do you start to secure the food to be able to solve the problem. Because now once you have on one side you have COVID, right, which is the food problem. Then over here you have Pfizer. And so here is the solution. Here's the inoculation here's your booster shot for your problem over here. You know what I'm saying? You just have to now have access to it and market it properly and say, this is why you need to get this shot. This is why you need to get this food. This is why when you're talking about women, infinite children and maternal issues, when it comes to food security and WIC, the biggest part of that problem program is how do you get healthy food to those young, to the kids.
[0:41:46] Harry Duran: Sure. Yeah.
[0:41:47] Alaric Overbey: How do you create more access to that? How do you start to eliminate a lot of those barriers, for example? And a lot of these programs are extremely subsidized and so the industry doesn't necessarily see that because, again, it's not their problem. Here we see it like we're part of a Nevada grant that they got that came from the USDA called the Local Feed Purchase Program, where almost $680,000,000 is important to these states for them to do nothing but buy produce from local farmers. So Nevada has 6 million or something like that to buy produce from local farmers. So the whole point of that is to give some economic foundation to local farmers to say, hey, you just grow it, we'll buy it from you.
[0:42:38] Harry Duran: Yeah.
[0:42:39] Alaric Overbey: So now you don't even have to go worry about chasing it down at the store. Matter of fact, we won't just buy it from you. We'll pay you to grow it, we'll pay you to process it, we'll pay you to store it and we'll pay you to deliver it.
[0:42:52] Harry Duran: That's just the type of boost that you need, especially for an environment that hasn't had that experience and is struggling to figure out a way to get this project off the ground and up and running. Right. And sometimes those incentives are exactly what you need to let the bigger companies, the MGMS of the world, figure out how we partner with this. And if you really are all these casinos, las Vegas is their lifeblood. And if they really believe that, it's almost like what gets grown in Vegas should be eaten in Vegas.
[0:43:30] Alaric Overbey: Exactly.
[0:43:31] Harry Duran: That should be the new logo. But it's also like if you really believe and you're not only benefiting from all the folks that are coming in, but also give back and see how you can support the community, that's literally just all you have to do is look out of these windows when you're in these hotels and you don't have to look too far to see these communities. It's not like they're out of sight, out of mind.
[0:43:51] Alaric Overbey: Right.
[0:43:52] Harry Duran: There's a lot of work that still needs to be involved from an education perspective. I'm wondering if you could see where's the progress at now from an education perspective at the community level. I did see some students in the center when we were there and just kind of thinking about this as a trade or this as it starts in the family level, right?
[0:44:19] Alaric Overbey: Yes.
[0:44:20] Harry Duran: And it's how do you educate them that nutrition is important, that fresh produce is important and obviously sometimes it's the kids that educate their parents sometimes on what the future looks like. And I'm wondering how much progress you feel has been being made there.
[0:44:34] Alaric Overbey: There's some progress being done. We've been again, from where we're at, just really kind of networking with both the school system, networking with juvenile facilities and then directly what we're doing as far as with Nevada partners. It's been a challenge in trying to get that into these systems because there's not a lot of people out there to teach it. Yeah, that's one of the challenges. And then really kind of getting into the community and not just teaching it, but giving them an access to where to get it from. You can teach me about it, but then I still have no transportation issues when it comes to getting to the nearest grocery store, for example. So in that area that grocery store is not frequent. Invited people out of that whole community. They drive past that store to go to the Walmart that's almost 5 miles away because they don't have enough of the resources. So it's not just the store, but it's the transportation to get to the store. Sure. It's the education on what to pick, what product. Not just that, but how do you prepare something different. So a lot of them don't even know how to prepare. Give them some squash, they're going to look like, what I'm supposed to do with that?
[0:46:04] Alaric Overbey: I give you some kale. These aren't kale communities. These aren't microgreen communities.
[0:46:12] Harry Duran: Arugula communities.
[0:46:14] Alaric Overbey: Yeah, these aren't Arugula communities, man. So it's like they don't when you say, hey, this is what we're doing and this is what we're producing and you're putting that out there, it's like, what they got to do with me? So again, that's where that education and having grassroots people going out there in the community like we would do. We took collard greens, we grew and we took them over there to Mario's and had his chef cook them. And then we did a food sampling like they do at Costco.
[0:46:41] Harry Duran: That's crazy.
[0:46:43] Alaric Overbey: And we was able to get these people to come through there and taste this and be like, Mario, these ain't Mario's greens. I haven't tasted greens like this since I was in Louisiana.
[0:46:56] Harry Duran: I was twelve years old. That's great.
[0:46:58] Alaric Overbey: So those are the responses. So then it's like, okay, so it is about access. If you give it to them, saying it becomes something that's normal to them. That's the thing, is that unhealthy food is very normal in these communities now, unfortunately. So where you see Mario's at, as soon as you step out, you turn left and you got McDonald's, Jack in a Box, Starbucks and Del Taco. You go across the street, you got Taco Bell, Panda Express. So it's like, okay, well, I just got more unhealthy options and they're cheaper.
[0:47:36] Harry Duran: Too, which is, I mean, how do you, how do you compete against that? I think it's part of it is also just kind of thinking long term. So as we wrap up, thank you for sharing your journey. It's been really interesting and inspiring, and I think it's going to be super helpful for our audience to hear all about it. And I'm wondering, you've talked a little bit about the challenges, but what has you hopeful, you're thinking out maybe just twelve months out, you've got projects in the works. You mentioned some work that you're doing with Ali as well, which is promising. Where are you seeing the most hope in terms of moving the deal forward and then getting to where this vision of where you think it can be.
[0:48:18] Alaric Overbey: Our biggest project right now is converting this grocery store into a vertical grocery farm. It's been a decrepit grocery store in the community for almost 30 years. We've been fortunate to have owners that also see that they own the store, but they also recognize that, hey, we're not part of this community. We don't know how to feed you guys. And they're being very candid about that. We don't know what your needs are, we don't know what your wants are. It's different. And so their willingness to let us come in and now take over that store gives us a very big platform to really change the dynamics of food deserts and food security by developing a model, a solution that you can plug and play this in any community. Because it's not just about putting in a store. It's one, it's making that store very sustainable. But it's also an opportunity to train the community in an industry where it's not just a farm, but announced the operation of actual revenue generating business that they all take part in, that they all participate in, that they all have a vested interest in ownership in. Because now there's something that they built. And I think that's the perspective that hasn't been done these communities, so there hasn't been any real internal solutions. And the reason why there has been a lot of internal solutions because they don't have a lot of outside knowledge. The ones in these communities, they don't know what CA is.
[0:50:05] Alaric Overbey: They don't even know what that term they don't even know what that term means. They don't understand what controlled environment agriculture is. They understand the difference between hydroponics and aquaponics and aeroponics and hybrids of it. They don't understand that. But I look at it as like, I don't care if I go to South America and I go some pygmies in the jungle and I bring them a cell phone and I come back a year later, their ability to communicate and how they talk to me is going to be very different. Right?
[0:50:36] Harry Duran: Yes, that's true.
[0:50:38] Alaric Overbey: I look at that being the same way in these communities, if you give them the tools and the knowledge that it help them develop their own direction, I think it's just that that's what they need. They don't need me or somebody else to come in and fix their problem. They need the tools and mechanisms to figure out how to fix their problems for themselves.
[0:50:58] Harry Duran: Of course, yeah. Teach a manifest, right?
[0:51:01] Alaric Overbey: Teacher manifest. You might want to go get croppy, he might want to go get catfish, he might want to go shark, fish. But they all understand the benefit of a fishing pole now. Yes, the size, it might be a different size, it might be a different weight, it might have a different lure on it, but they know how to apply that to whatever situation that they're in at that time. That's the difference.
[0:51:27] Harry Duran: And so with the initiatives you have in place, you feel hopeful that it'll be slow in the beginning. And to your point, this is new to a lot of folks and new to communities, new to generations, but do you feel hopeful that you're on the right path?
[0:51:39] Alaric Overbey: Oh, absolutely. That conference really opened our eyes up to the fact that and it really opened the city's eyes up, like, okay, they might be on to something. If you have this many people interested in what they're talking about of nowhere, then that might be something we might want to kind of stand behind. And so that's where our conversations are right now, that we're going to do something out here that's going to force you to work with us because you better off plan with us and plan it's like we're just going to do the right thing. And I think us being able to show that and show the activity that we're doing without anything from you, we haven't got any funding for any from anybody. We've been doing this all grassroots, all from ourselves, and hopefully our goal is to say that our work that we're doing would then give us the funding that we need to do it better and bigger.
[0:52:40] Harry Duran: That's a great segue, because what I've been doing at the end of these conversations is leaving a few minutes for the guests because of the audience, because it's folks. It's essentially all the founders, CEOs of vertical farming companies, your colleagues in the space, people who are interested in this industry, whether entering this industry, or who have been like, quote unquote, veterans. I mean, it's still relatively new. So what message do you have? This is a platform I want to make available to you. Like, if you had a message for folks in the vertical farming, your peers in the space, any potential or future partners, the floor is yours for that, come to Vegas.
[0:53:20] Alaric Overbey: Taylor Swift, Usher, they all got residencies out here. So what we're doing is offering residency to the industry here in Las Vegas. This is the largest food desert in the country, and I think that this could be almost a mecca. We want to create an Agritech Valley filament of the Silicon Valley, where this is home, saying to a lot of these large companies to start to deploy. We help with the training, we help with the sourcing, we help with getting your products out there and making people more aware of your products. We're not married to anything. We're not married to anybody. We're married to the technology, and we're married to the output of agriculture and good food. And that's where I think it gives like most organizations, they all have this social initiative that they want to put. Let us be that social initiative. Let us be that. 1% that you dedicate to solving a particular problem. We share that. We share that data. You take that back.
[0:54:24] Alaric Overbey: Now, you have more comprehensive data on how to address different issues that you're working on. But I think our value here is the fact that we're going to do the work. We're very active. We don't ask a lot of questions. We just feel that, hey, there's a need, there's a demand, and then there's a way to supply the demand. So it's just very simple supply and demand. And then we also working at our thing is like, hey, we chase different money. We chase the money of people who don't normally have access, who you think don't have money, but really, these communities have trillion dollar buying power. So that's those things that we tap into. And so in order to really pull that off and really to make this CA successful, is about partnering not just at the big level, but also at the little level. By supporting these smaller farms, both with your technology, with your knowledge, to make them more resilient, make them more viable, and really feed into actually participating in solving a solution.
[0:55:34] Harry Duran: Yeah. Well, Eric, I'm really grateful that we got connected. I'm so happy that you took the initiative to kind of speak up for the voices that are unheard, especially at the conference. Shout out to Suzanne, who's done a great job with the conference. I think they've settled the five of us since last year. And just also for the organizers to be aware that this is something and to recognize that this wasn't being addressed and it's something that I'm glad they gave you the platform of the panel, and I think we're having this conversation because of it. And I'm sure there's been a ton of follow up conversations because of it as well. So I applaud you for kind of being the boots on the ground and speaking up for the unheard voices. Right. Because we need more people like you that are doing that, because they may not realize these communities may not realize that there's a need there or what the opportunities exist out there. Like vertical farming can address a small part of the problem. And I think what you're doing is really admirable your journey, puts you at the right place at the right time with the right technology and the right experience to kind of be the right person to spearhead this. So greensideup Farm for folks to get connected, we'll make sure we have your LinkedIn as well. Any other place you want to send folks to learn more or connect with you.
[0:56:51] Alaric Overbey: Greensideup Farm. Also, one last tip. We're partnering up with Indoor AG for next year's conference.
[0:56:58] Harry Duran: Okay.
[0:56:59] Alaric Overbey: So there'll be a second. There'll be another tour. We want to try to make this an annual tour. The goal with this tour is to be able to see we've been able to accomplish in a year.
[0:57:07] Harry Duran: Yes. And I'm sure there's Greenside Up Farm socials where people can see the progress as well, right?
[0:57:14] Alaric Overbey: Yes, absolutely. Instagram, Facebook, we're everywhere.
[0:57:17] Harry Duran: Okay. We'll make sure we list all those in the show notes. I appreciate your time.
[0:57:20] Alaric Overbey: Absolutely. Thank you.