Berlin, Germany — The produce section of the supermarket is changing. You might say it is getting a technological facelift. The change, however, is more than merely cosmetic. INFARM, a German high-tech firm, is changing the way we interact with not only the supermarket, but the food system as a whole: in-store vertical farms.
Designers of “indoor vertical farms,” INFARM has partnered with METRO AG to produce the first-ever in-store farm. Rather than simply selecting the freshest veggies that have all been transported in some capacity, shoppers can basically harvest their own produce. Of course, this system is still in its infancy, and the installation of their indoor vertical farm at one of METRO AG’s Berlin location is only the first step. Yet, by partnering with other organizations like 25h Hotels, Olympus, and Mercedes-Benz, INFARM definitely has room to grow.
Food sustainability is an increasingly popular focus of European governments and citizens, and the development of technologies like these reflects that. With most of our food travelling long distances before reaching the consumer, and public and government focus turning towards food waste, bringing the farm into the store might just be the logical next step. It is also the first step in finding a solution to feeding heavily populated urban centers.
Vertical farming is not a new idea — though it is an idea that is taking some time to gain traction, it could solve a variety of problems. FarmedHere, a Chicago-based vertical farm, has been supplying local Whole Foods Markets for several years now, and they are currently in the process of expanding. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to vertical urban farming on this scale: Indoor, vertical farms requiring a great deal of energy, and with a limited variety of foods that can be produced, more retail chains have been sticking to traditional distance-based production.
This is the beauty of the INFARM technology. Small-scale, local, and interactive, shoppers are introduced to the technology by actually harvesting their own herbs and veggies in the grocery store. Although unintended, the introduction of an in-store garden to our nearest supermarkets will serve to broaden our awareness of the possibilities — allowing consumers a chance to understand through participation — potentially creating groundswell for larger chains to switch to hydroponic, urban, vertical farms in the future.
Even corporate giants like IKEA are getting into the mix. By introducing the KRYDDA/VÄXER series of plug-and-play hydroponics, IKEA is offering people the chance to grow food on a very small scale in their own homes, affordably. With nearly no mess, and much less work than a traditional garden, small, user-friendly systems like these can help reduce food waste while increasing food access.
Requiring less water than traditional farming, and no soil, hydroponics can produce food even during times of drought, in environments not normally seen as being arable, like abandoned warehouses. And the technology is only getting better. INFARM and FarmedHere are good examples of the applicability and the effectiveness of hydroponics, on both small and large scales, offering local and regional solutions to the very real problem of food sustainability.