Vertical farming moves into the store
Recently-opened vertical farms from the likes of FarmedHere and AeroFarms allow produce to be grown more efficiently, transported shorter distances and arrive fresher in stores. A vertical farm in Germany, however, is going more local and fresher still, with produce actually being grown in-store.
The "Kräuter Garten," as it is called at the METRO Cash & Carry where it is installed, was provided by its manufacturer INFARM, which has previously developed an origami-like mini-greenhouse. It is part of a pilot project in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain that will provide insight into the performance and feasibility of the product (usually called an INFARM itself), which INFARM hopes will contribute to its vision for the future in which cities are self-sufficient in their food production.
"We believe our food system should be de-centralize and production should get closer to the consumer," says founder and CEO of INFARM Erez Galonska. "This is essential in terms of the impact on the environment as well as for significantly improving the safety and quality of our food."
INFARM was set up in 2013 and has received funding from the EU and from angel investors to help develop its vertical farming technology. The INFARM comprises stacked units in which herbs and vegetables are grown hydroponically on a thin layer of water enriched with fertilizers and oxygen. It uses LED lights to mimic sunlight, microsensors to monitor its environment, and data processing to calculate and deliver the conditions needed for the plants to thrive.
In addition to allowing fresh local produce to be grown all year round, the INFARM is said to produce tasty herbs and vegetables, to use 70 percent less in the way of fertilizers than conventional growing, 90 percent less water, and no pesticides at all. It has also saved space at the METRO Cash & Carry, with the 5-sq m (54-sq ft) installation taking up less floor area than a standard display.
INFARM says its vertical farming technology allows for "far greater production efficiency than any other product in the market today." Despite the apparent complexity of the INFARM, though, it can be monitored and controlled using an app, allowing it to be maintained by METRO store employees. Ultimately, the company hopes that this simplicity will allow the INFARM to be rolled out to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, co-working spaces, hospitals and homes.
The INFARM was installed in October last year and the pilot runs through until October this year. INFARM plans to start selling it to businesses either this year or next.
The video below takes a look at the project.