by Enrico Villamaino

Altius Farms features an 8,000-square-foot greenhouse situated atop a community living complex.

Things are looking up at Altius Farms. This is due in no small part to the fact that the crops are already one story above ground and are being cultivated in vertically-oriented “tower farms.”

A Denver, CO-based experiment in urban farming, Altius (from the Latin word for “higher”) is the brainchild of Sally Herbert. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Herbert studied marketing and computer science as an undergraduate at Colorado State University and earned her MBA in information systems from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. She later embarked on two very time-consuming careers as an executive for a variety of corporations, including IBM, and as a 14-year member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, working in logistics.

Herbert explained, “On the corporate side, I worked up and down the East Coast as well as abroad. I had something like 1.2 million flight miles logged. And I also served in both Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm while in the reserves.”

Eventually, she experienced what she calls “corporate burnout” and began searching for a more personally fulfilling enterprise. Her involvement as a board member of Veterans to Farmers, a non-profit organization established to train veterans in agricultural systems, technologies and business operations to help “turn protectors into providers,” encouraged Herbert to return to Colorado to pursue a business based on a rooftop garden model.

It hasn’t always been easy.

Sally Herbert has made the transition from high-flying corporate executive and member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves to urban farmer at Altius Farms in Denver, CO.
Photos courtesy of Altius Farms

She laughed, “This is actually my fourth try at this in five years.” Altius officially opened for business in 2018. Herbert has six full-time employees, several part-timers and interns from both the University of Colorado and the University of Virginia.

Establishing a farm in the heart of a metropolitan area can present a number of challenges, not the least of which is having enough space for planting and cultivation. Altius has cleared this hurdle with an innovative location and with utilization of tower farming technology. The farm consists of an 8,000-square foot vertical aeroponic greenhouse situated atop S*Park, a new solar-powered community featuring condominium units and a local sushi eatery.

Operating on the rooftop eliminates the need to find new unused land on the ground, and tower farming grows plants with only water and nutrients rather than soil. Research has found aeroponic systems grow plants three times faster and produce 30% greater yields on average. Herbert is proud to say, “We see results of one and a half acres’ worth of production every month.” Altius grows lettuce, leafy greens, herbs and edible flowers.

Looking ahead, Herbert is eager to expand Altius’ CSA program. “We currently have about 20 members. It’s the people living here at S*Park, but we’d like to expand out into the neighborhood. There’s a lot of demographics to be served here. Sure, there are $750,000 homes, but there are also multi-generational households that have difficulty with food access. We can help with that. We’d also like to increase the usage of our farm-to-dinner space. We had nine events in 2019, but we’ll be looking to do much more!”

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