Together with Berlin Start-Up

Edeka and Metro are joining the growers

Vertical farming is a way to put an end to the climate-compromising import of vegetables from all parts of the world. Fruits and vegetables can also be grown in the supermarket, some manufacturers promise. But we are not there yet.

There is a large black box with Plexiglas windows, standing in the middle of the vegetable department of the Edeka market in Oberhausen. This is the "greenhouse of the future," explains Pascal Gerdes. In fact, it is a digitally networked herbal farm in which plants are to grow under optimal conditions.

After a critical appraisal of the plants and a smell test, a customer decides to buy some of the coriander, which she places in her almost empty shopping basket. Price: 1,29 Euro. The Gerdes family is not pleased with the customer's choice. This lady is the first buyer of the plants that are grown in the supermarket.

Only a few weeks ago, the futuristic-looking farm was set up in the store of the Gerdes family. It came from Berlin start-up Infarm, which is one of the major suppliers in the field of vertical farming. Infarm also cooperates with other retailers. The 'farm' is to be tested in the Edeka market for a whole year. If the mint, Greek basil, mountain coriander and the like prove to be worthwhile, the farm may remain there. It is, however, still too early to do away with the entire vegetable counter - that would be relying too much on this nascent technology.

Digital farms in Oberhausen, London and Paris
In the farm, seedlings of various plants are being used. They are not growing in soil, but have been dipped in a thin layer of liquid that provides the necessary nutrients. From above, LED lamps provide continuous lighting. Everything can be individually adjusted so that the optimal climate conditions can be created for every plant. Vertical farming promises efficient and, above all, rapid growth.
"Temperature and light intensity are adjusted completely autonomously," explains Martin Weber from Infarm. "We control the state and the growth of the plants via infrared cameras." An employee from Infarm will go to the Edeka stores to harvest. He or she will set the plants that are ready for sale apart, immediately inserting new ones in their place. Supermarket operators like the Gerdes family do not have to worry about anything. But that should change over time. With more experience, sowing and harvesting can be taken over by the supermarket operators.

Until now, Vertical Farming is limited to herbs, as in the Edeka store in Oberhausen. But one can grow any kind of fruit and vegetables, promises Infarms CFO Weber: "We would like to offer everything, without exception."

This optimism has apparently convinced some retailers: The incubators of Infarm are there at numerous German Edeka markets, including stores in the Swiss supermarket chain Migros and in metro markets - including a metro market in the suburb of Nanterre, Paris. And the internationalization is to go on: "In Paris and Zurich, we have already inaugurated the first farms outside Germany. And in early 2019, London will follow," said Weber. In the USA there is potential for the Berlin start-up as well.


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