If you’ve recently walked down Lawrence Street in RiNo, you have probably have been stopped in your tracks by the sight of a rooftop garden. At the very least, you’ve probably wondered what was going on above Uchi. This beautiful greenhouse space is home to Altius Farms. As one of the largest vertical aeroponic rooftop gardens in the country, Altius currently grows varieties of lettuce, herbs and edible flowers galore.
Part of the new S*Park condo community, Altius landed at the RiNo location where the land historically has been farmed since the 1930s. The greenhouse itself offers 8,000 square feet to run operations, and the community garden outside will double the growing space once the spring comes. S*Park and Altius are planning to team up for great farm-to-table events and community dinners come warmer temperatures.
Sally Herbert, co-founder of Altius, is excited to open the flagship location of Altius Farms in Denver and partner with S*Park to do so. Short for Sustainability Park, the condo community is an incubator for sustainable living and community development. Centered around wellness for human bodies and the earth, Altius Farms is a great addition to the RiNo living complex.
Herbert commented that their mission is to “bring urban farming back into our communities.” They are currently focusing on their partnerships with restaurants to do so. Altius works with some of Denver’s top-rated restaurants – including Beast + Bottle, Butcher’s Bistro and Urban Farmer. The team at Avanti Food & Beverage asked Herbert to grow a mix of greens to pair well with a particular dressing the restaurant is concocting for a special event.
“There’s a real demand for produce that’s safe, nutritionally dense, that’s got good flavor, that doesn’t have 1,500 food miles on it,” Herbert explained. Most of Altius’ customers are located in the surrounding neighborhoods, so the produce is fresh when restaurants receive their orders. This cuts back on food waste both within the farm and in restaurants – however the produce that Altius can’t sell before its prime, they donate to We Don’t Waste and Denver Food Rescue.
“We are a for-profit company with a social impact mission,” Herbert commented. And in addition to engaging the community in learning more about their food, Altius operates on a sustainable business model. The aeroponic tower system uses 10 percent of the water and 10 percent of the space to produce 10 times the yield of a conventional soil farm. Herbert also gets to see an eye-level view of each plant every day – making it easy to identify the needs of particular plants throughout the greenhouse.
The greenhouse itself was designed to recognize the plants needs by pooling the environment. Sensors around the greenhouse cue the processing system to turn on fans or heaters, open up roof and side vents to adjust the humidity and temperatures to make the greenhouse the perfect environment for growing leafy greens.
The greenhouse also provides a controlled environment for their plants to grow. Altius Farms has a separate water system and a controlled environment that is not affected by the state of surrounding farms. In result, Altius was able to supply their customers with romaine when the rest of the country was having an e. coli scare. Transversely, if Altius had a scare in their own farm, it wouldn’t affect any growing site except the greenhouse location.
The horticulturalist for Altius, Don Dwyer, has been in the growing business since the 1970s. More and more he sees that people want to “establish a relationship with their food.” Altius helps facilitate a positive relationship with food by providing fresh produce with interesting flavor profiles to Denver residents. Dwyer also understands that so many Denverites want to support local farms and Altius gives residents a way to learn about growing food in an urban location.
As Altius approaches full growing capacity, they are looking forward to living into their mission and engaging the community in their work. “Food is important in [illness] recovery and in education and just having nutritious meals for our kids,” Herbert explained. Once they have the capacity, Altius hopes to serve the community beyond restaurants – including schools and medical centers.
For the time being, Altius takes great care of their restaurants. Herbert enjoys offering tours and tasting to their chef partners and helping them to design a menu around Altius greens. With flavors like wasabi arugula to mustard greens and a number of edible flowers, Altius Farms caters to many chefs and their various dish innovations.
These partnerships excite Herbert, who has never worked with chefs in this way. “What’s been interesting,” Herbert commented, “is that they are – pun intended – hungry for this kind of food. They want to have the conversation with us.” In the future, Altius wants to expand their produce and grow specific plants for restaurants – working with chefs from the inception of a dish idea to the culmination.
Altius Farms is located at 2500 Lawrence Street #200, Denver. Their restaurant customers in RiNo and LoDo are Urban Farmer, Uchi, Crema, HiTide Poke, Port Side, Stowaway, Famous Original J’s Pizza, Butcher’s Bistro, Goed Zuur, Beast + Bottle and Dio Mio. Altius greens are available in both Marczyk’s Fine Foods.
All photography by Evans Ousley.