Food retailers from coast to coast are increasingly turning to indoor, vertical and greenhouse farming to meet the demand for locally grown produce, reduce food miles and offer the freshest product possible. Some, such as Tops Friendly Markets in Williamsville, N.Y., are partnering with greenhouse operators off-site, while others, such as Whole Foods Market and The Kroger Co., work with greenhouse and indoor farming experts to grow on-site and in-store.
“As our climate continues to change in primary growing regions, Mother Nature continues to add challenges that are very hard for growers to overcome. Customers are demanding we have product regardless of that,” says Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Tops. “Greenhouses give us an opportunity to meet our customers’ needs day in and day out.”
Tops has partnered with greenhouse builder and operator BrightFarms of Irvington, N.Y., to offer shoppers lettuce, arugula and spinach grown closer to home—specifically in a Wilmington, Ohio, greenhouse about 400 miles from Tops’ distribution center. “The idea was to try and take miles out of the supply chain and ultimately get as fresh a product as we can for our customers,” Cady says.
Cady, who estimates Tops sells 25% to 35% more greenhouse-grown produce than it did five years ago, sees continued potential for growth.
“We will expand as products come online. Greenhouse-grown strawberries were not available five years ago. We have been bringing them in and have had very good results,” he says. “Perception is reality. Add in the perceived food safety and environmentally friendly components, and greenhouses will continue to thrive.”