We all know that we should include as many fresh vegetables as possible in our diets, but the fact is that the energy and environmental costs of growing and then transporting vegetables from the farm to the supermarket can stack up pretty high.
Now one German company has come up with an interesting way of tackling the problem, designing miniature farm units that are so small and self-contained, they can be installed at the end of a conventional supermarket aisle.
Kräutergarten, meaning “Herb garden“, is the brainchild of vertical farming startup Infarm, which is rolling out these mini farms as part of an experimental pilot with Metro Group, a German retail chain.
“Pretty much any type of greenhouse needs a scale to be economical and efficient, “Infarm co-founder Guy Galonska told Adele Peters at Fast Company.
“In our case, the technology we developed is kind of a building-block approach, and this building block reaches efficiencies that are much higher. It works at a very small scale, just a few square metres. So it makes a lot of sense in your neighbourhood supermarket scale.”
Like other vertical farm approaches we’ve seen in the US and the UK, Infarm’s systems take advantage of things like year-round production, low water usage, and pesticide-free techniques to deliver a low-cost, low-impact means of farming greens.
Only one of these farms is operating in a special supermarket designed for chefs and wholesale customers, but the company intends to begin mass-manufacturing units for mainstream outlets before the end of the year.
Aside from the energy savings and environmental benefits of cutting out veggie transport from farms to where they’re sold, Infarm says it also makes for a revitalised way of looking at the food you buy.
“It really engages people. You’re used to having kind of a boring experience in the grocery store. You come and get your things. Here you see a farm – it’s a piece of farm in the supermarket.”
The pilot unit is focusing on herbs and specialty greens including mizuna and wasabi mustard greens, but Infarm says the same boxes could easily grow produce such as eggplants, tomatoes, and chili peppers.
“We call this farming as a service,” says Galonska.
Infarm hopes all kinds of supermarkets will look at installing the mini-farms, and if the idea takes off, it could help transform the assumption that vertical farming and other approaches to urban agriculture aren’t a robust alternative to today’s high-yield but high-impact agricultural practices.
We definitely see how vertical farming can supply many other things such as rice, soybeans, certain types of fruits,” says Galonska.