Jackson Hole Wyoming antler sign

Locals Making a Difference

Jackson Hole’s landscape is stunning. The valley is likely one of the most beautiful places in the country, if not the world. But it’s not the mountains, rivers, forests, and lakes here that are most special. “I moved to Jackson for the skiing, but stayed for the community,” is an oft-heard refrain from locals. This valley of about 20,000 is stuffed with people who want to make a difference, whether that difference is saving the life of a hunter injured in the backcountry, providing meaningful jobs to people with developmental disabilities, opening a cute café that serves the best croissants this side of the Atlantic, or sharing a singular sense of style with shoppers. Meet some of the locals making a difference today.

The Teton County Search & Rescue (TSCAR) team is “a tribe of 36 awesome folks that are like family,” says Cody Lockhart, who’s been a volunteer on the team since 2009 and is currently TCSAR Chief. “Getting to be a part of this tribe is an honor.” Lockhart, whose full-time job is as a financial planner, says “we’re all on the team because we want to be there to help our neighbors. Hopefully us being around gives people more peace of mind. They know that if something goes wrong, someone—us—will come help them.”

TCSAR is the state’s busiest SAR team and annually responds to between 70 and 100 incidents. The team is more than twice as busy as the state’s next busiest SAR team, which is usually neighboring Sublette County Search and Rescue. TCSAR is on call 24 hours a day/365 days a year and responds to call-outs for missing, injured, and deceased hunters, hikers, climbers, skiers, rafters, snowmobilers, and bikers. If a backcountry user needs help, TCSAR is it.

“The Jackson Hole community is there for SAR,” Lockhart says. “The amount of money the Teton County SAR Foundation gets from the community is huge and supports a big chunk of real, on-the-ground operations. It is thanks to the community that we have a helicopter here for most of the year. This makes the team feel like the community really values what we’re doing and the time we’re putting in and our skills. It is cool to have this kind of connection with the community. We definitely feel the love.” tetoncountysar.org

Since opening their first store, MADE, in 2010, John Frechette and Christian Burch have gone on to create a bit of a retail empire in Jackson Hole, and to transform the way locals shop. Following MADE, which sells a thoughtfully curated selection of eclectic lifestyle objects from small makers, artists, and artisans across the country, was Mountain Dandy (2014), then Mountain Dandy Showroom (2017). Both of the Mountain Dandys feature wide array of handmade and vintage items with a masculine aesthetic. “We have worked to provide shopping focused on locals,” Frechette says. “We want to provide those who live here access to things we love, and are proud of.” Of course this only works because Frechette and Burch both have a great eye and sense of humor, and sense of style. “We love everything that makes the cut in our shops. Design, craftsmanship, price—there are a lot of things that go into each decision [of what to carry].”

Two summers ago, John and Christian took over the candy shop across Gaslight Alley from MADE, not that they were looking to get into the candy business.  Mursell McLaughlin was their landlord at MADE and “she owned the candy store next to us for almost 10 years, and had been in Gaslight Alley for more than 20 years before that,” Frechette says. “She and her husband John had been really good to us, and were friends.” John passed away from cancer and Mursell herself also got sick. “We had lots of long conversations about how to help her continue the shop; she didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t come to work,” Frechette says. “We finally asked one day, ‘what if we took over the candy store.’ She replied, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’” Thanks to John and Christian, Mursell’s Sweet Shop still sells candies and chocolates from around the world.

Built on the side of a parking garage in downtown Jackson, Vertical Harvest’s footprint is about a tenth of an acre. The vertical farm produces about as much as five acres of land does though—approximately 100,000 pounds of produce annually. Vertical Harvest is essentially three greenhouses stacked on top of one another. Each level is separate and grows different crops. The two lower floors are like traditional, single-level greenhouses. The top and tallest level are like other vertical farms, where rotating carousels—like moving racks at a dry cleaner’s—move the plants so that each plant gets an equal amount of time in natural light. Buy Vertical Harvest produce in a market on its ground floor or at Jackson Hole Grocer, Lucky’s Market, Aspen’s Market, and Pearl Street Market. verticalharvestjackson.com, 155 W. Simpson Ave., Jackson, 307/201-4452

While Vertical Harvest stands out for growing 100,000 pounds of produce annually at 6,200 feet above sea level in an area with an outdoor growing season of maybe three months, its employment model is even more unique than its existence. About half of the farm’s employees are developmentally disabled people with conditions including autism, Down syndrome, seizure disorders, and spina bifida.  Statewide, the unemployment rate for this group is about 78 percent. Twenty-year-old William Dennis has worked at the hydroponic farm for a couple of years. “I love working at Vertical Harvest because I can be myself,” he says. Free, one-hour guided tours of the 13,500-square-foot facility are available several times a week; sign up online at verticalharavestjackson.com.

Jackson-based documentary filmmaker Jennifer Tennican made a documentary about Vertical Harvest’s first 15 months in operation, Hearts of Glass. Produced with help from Slow Food in the Tetons, the film was finished last year and shares the personal and professional lives of Vertical Harvest employees. It premiered at California’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival in January 2019 and has also been shown at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival, ReelAbilities Film Festival New York, Princeton Environmental Film Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Julien Dubuque International Film Festival, and the Black Hills Film Festival. The Black Hills Film Festival awarded named it best feature documentary. Watch Hearts of Glass at TK.

Husband-and-wife Ali and Kevin Cohane opened Persephone Bakery as a wholesale-only operation in 2011. (Le Cordon Bleu-trained Kevin is the baker and Ali is manager, designer, and buyer.) In 2013, the couple opened Persephone Café in a historic log cabin one block from the Town Square and the valley’s café culture hasn’t been the same since. Persephone was followed in 2015 by Picnic, which opened in a modern, airy space in West Jackson. This past summer the couple opened Persephone West in the Aspens, and, just this fall started offering dinner here. (Persephone West is the only location to offer dinner.) Whichever location you visit, you’re sure to find a crowd because of the delicious pastries and breakfast and lunch menus. “I hope we have created welcoming places for the community to gather over good food and great coffee,” Ali says. “And with our attention to detail and the quality in everything we do, we have hopefully elevated the café experience in Jackson.”

This summer Persephone was one of the businesses behind the “Save Our Block” campaign spearheaded by the Jackson Hole Land Trust. The goal of the campaign was to protect the block from being bulldozed (so a new hotel could be built) by buying up historic preservation easements. More than $7 million was raised from more than 5,500 individual gifts to preserve the downtown block that is home to Persephone’s original location. (The block is also home to Healthy Being Juicery, Café Genevieve, green space, giant cottonwoods, and a section of Cache Creek.) “We all know Jackson is changing quickly, sometimes only with money and tourism in mind, bypassing the good of the local community and consideration of unsustainable development, so ‘Save the Block’ represents exactly that,” Ali says. “What is a space for the local community to gather, eat, rest, commune, and enjoy a beautiful outdoor setting was going to become a massive building exclusively for visitors. But the town spoke with donations and support to say that that wasn’t the direction we want out downtown to take. It was truly amazing to feel the power of everyone coming together to make something seemingly impossible happen. Saving the Block was a win for the future of Jackson, and our local community, which is why it was important to me, not to mention we get to keep our little café we love.”

Persephone West—Perseph West, informally—brought a new dinner option to the West Bank in October. “We’ve always wanted to offer dinner, but the space downtown is unfortunately too small to make it work financially,” Ali says. “This was just the next step in our long-term plan to offer thoughtful and quality food, mostly locally sourced, in a unique environment. Perseph West was finally big enough to have a full kitchen and enough tables up front to make it work.” Asked if Kevin was involved in the food that extended beyond pastry, Ali says, “He’s always involved in some way or another, although he prefers to stick to the butter-based products.”