She woke to the smell of breakfast wafting through the house, bringing back precious memories of her childhood in Bombay, before it was renamed Mumbai.? Refreshed, the discussion of the previous evening still raced through her active mind.? She had much to do today … and to learn, Aakriti knew.

Though only seven o’clock, the Overton family was busy preparing the establishment for the daily restaurant rush.? Sally motioned her to take a seat at a table the was full of bagels, scrambled eggs, fruit, grained cereals and plenty of coffee.? She dug in, participating in the small talk that accompanied the usual routine, but she was eager to pursue her conversation with Everton.

She watched him now, moving in an out of various rooms – quietly efficient, capable but always pleasant and she again grew intrigued.

“So, you’re heading to the airport?” Daisy asked genially.? “You can stay longer if you like,” she added.

“I’d like that very much,” their guest murmured.? “I felt our conversation last night ended too early and I’ve got a lot of questions.”

“As do I,” Dad chimed in.? “I’m eager to hear about your business.”? He paused a moment before saying with a smile, “I looked you up on Google last night, you know.? I had no idea just how vast your business dealings are.? You’ll just have to forgive me for being so na?ve.”? It was voiced with the kind of self-deprecation that made Everton so appealing.

“The girls are going to handle the restaurant today so that the three of us can keep the questions going.? Unless you have to leave right away, of course?”? Mom’s question was met with a quiet smile and the assurance that this was exactly where Aakriti wanted to be.

A few minutes later they hopped into her car to ensure that the brakes had dried and proceeded to a quaint bistro down by the riverfront.

“So, Sky High Industries,” Dad began.? “That name suits your company perfectly.”

“You know about the pods then?” she inquired, looking directly at him.

“That was all part of my Google experience last night, but I haven’t told Sally here about it.? Why don’t you tell how it all works?”

And out it all came – every remarkable development.

After dabbling around in her father’s food business following their move to San Diego, Aakriti stumbled upon a new technology destined to turn the food business upside down.? With her father’s backing and the research support of the University of California San Diego, she started the state’s first vertical farm – a seven-story high renovated old cereal plant with levels of “pods” containing foods from around the world.? Roughly the size of a small bed, the pods were virtually controlled climate environments in which everything for the success of the crop growth was provided.

The food harvest from these pods were fully managed from seed to harvest, and all of it was accomplished with 95% less water than regular farms and with crop yields some 400% higher per square foot than any other farms in California. All of this was done without the sun or soil in fully controlled indoor environments.?The environmental footprint was minute compared to normal farming and the use of ultra violet lighting and controlled temperature guaranteed every crop.

Mom sat in place, amazed at what she was hearing.? Dad just listened, fixed in place, his keen mind understanding the implications of it all immediately.

“That’s incredible,” Mom exulted.? “And you’re saying it works?”

“One hundred per cent of the time,” Aakriti said with a smile.

“And what do farmers think of it all?” Dad asked.? “I mean, what you’re talking about here puts them out of a job.? It must be hard on them.”

Aakriti stared at him intently, saying, “It’s actually the other way around Everton.?Farmers are disappearing off the American landscape, leaving us with mostly huge operations that feed the five massive global food companies that monopolize world supplies.? What we’re attempting to do is bring the smaller and medium farmers and their expertise into the city, or around it, in order to manage our operations.”

“What about their farms in the rural regions?”

“They can keep them in the family and many of them are experimenting with newer crops like nuts, seeds and organics.? But their main efforts are applied to our vertical farms, most of which lie in urban areas.? They’re back to fulfilling their historic role of feeding our municipalities, only this time they’re doing it with the urban landscape.”

Dad thought about that in the quiet moments that followed and liked every aspect of it, mostly because it put dedicated and talented people with history back to work at what they did best.

“And all this happens consistently?” he asked.

“Twelve months a year, fifty-two weeks, and three hundred and sixty-five days.? We can now grow in the winter and summer, in all kinds of conditions.? And the amount of energy required to run such operations is a fraction of what it would normally cost in historic patterns.”

“It’s a revolution,” Mom exulted.

“That and more,” Aakriti responded.? “If invested in properly it could feed the world.”

Dad looked at both women and said only, “Perhaps.”

“Dubious?” Aakriti said with a smile.? “You wouldn’t be the first.”

“No, no, I don’t doubt the technology or the implications.? It’s the process I’m worried about.”

Mom looked at her husband, lifted her shoulders and tilted her head as if perplexed as to his meaning.

He took a sip from the rugged mug that held his hazelnut coffee before continuing.?“Look, I’ve been around some over the years and witnessed a lot of difficult conditions in our troubled world.?The solutions to most of that human pain already exist but are monopolized by affluent countries like this one, or by a global financial system that keeps making money at levels that are ludicrous, and yet so little of it gets to the rest of humanity.”

The mood had turned, almost glum.? His companions hardly knew how to respond to his observation, in part because they knew he was correct.? Mom reached out to touch his hand.

“I apologize,” he continued quietly.? “I think what you’ve developed is remarkable, Aakriti, but I’ve lived long enough to see too many occasions where those inventions that could truly assist all of humanity to have a better life somehow only work to the benefit of those who are already doing fine.”

“People like me, you mean?” his guest asked.

“No, that’s not my inference.? I just mean that you don’t have to look to the poorer regions of the developing world to see how wealth moves ever-upward instead of outward.? Our city here has had many glorious decades and accomplished a lot of things, but right now half of our people are either out of work or don’t make enough to pay the bills.? Nobody talks about it but we are hurting at levels difficult to describe.?And yet all these new inventions will come along, make fortunes for some, but leave our community basically untouched.”

To their surprise, they watched as Everton choked on his words, forcing himself to go silent.? It was a moment that rooted Aakriti on the spot where she sat.? Something in the man’s depth of emotion, his passion for others, lit a fire somewhere in her own soul and set her mind racing.? And it also made her bold enough to risk a vulnerability.

“You said that you researched the operation of Sky High on the Net last night, Everton.?Based on what you learned, do you envision a company like that changing the situation you’re talking about for the better?”

An inquiry loaded with poignant tension, Sally found herself clutching her breath.?She hadn’t seen her husband in such a condition for years and didn’t know what would come of his next words.

He placed both hands firmly around his mug and looked up at his guest.? Aakriti was staring at him with an open countenance and that transparency helped him to say what came next.

“I think your company is outstanding Aakriti, and as an entrepreneur myself I can’t help but admire its creativity and reach.? But in answer to your question – no, I don’t believe such firms can rescue communities from this economic plague confronting them.? It’s not like the Depression.? At least then we believed the jobs would come back and cities and farms could rebuild.? Not any more, though.? That’s why it all feels so hopeless.? Sky Reach and all the others seem too mobile to me, too invested by people – shareholders – from around the world who couldn’t possibly understand our sorrow or loss of hope.? We need them to stay and ride things out with us, rooting their operation in our future and not just our purchasing power.”

In his bashfulness at speaking so forcefully, Everton failed to spot the seismic shift thundering its way through Aakriti’s mind.? She had no way of knowing how to put it all together but in a small bistro in the middle of a struggling town her thoughts were already travelling to what had to be done.? It was destined to change everything.


Next chapter – Interlude