Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about local food. That’s the big thing nowadays. Everybody wants their food to be fresh, unlike a century ago when people were satisfied just to have food on the table.
I confess that I’m part of this higher consciousness. I don’t want to buy oranges shipped from, say, California to a supermarket in Cleveland where I live. Those oranges are not as fresh as oranges grown in groves near me. The fact that there are no orange groves around Cleveland is not the point. Freshness is the operating concept here.
I began researching this topic years ago and came across what I thought could become a radical addition of one part of the grocery store. The Metro Cash & Carry in Berlin, Germany was selling herbs, radishes and salad greens grown right inside the store. Using a high-tech garden technique developed by a company called InFarm, store employees grew produce on a thin, nutrient-rich layer of water in what looked like a vertical greenhouse. This type of food cultivation is known as hydroponics, not to be confused with hypnotics, which is when shady grocers put shoppers in a trance with a 75% discount and sell them old vegetables.
Shoppers in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain were the first customers to buy food they watched grow week after week. They were able to pull produce right off the vine, plop them in their cart, and feel secure in the knowledge that the food is local and fresh.
The success of the vertical micro-farm has important implications for the health of shoppers and even Earth itself. There are no pesticides used, and we all know how unhealthy they can be. This indoor farming technique uses less water and energy than traditional methods of farming. It also reduces the planet’s carbon footprint because food does not have to be transported a long way.
InFarm went on to partner with 25 major grocery chains in Germany, Switzerland, and France and set up more than 200 farms in food stores.
You may be excited about in-store farms and wonder if they will ever be placed in the typical U.S. grocery store. Well, wonder no more. The Kroger Co., the country’s largest grocer, is working with InFarm to place living produce farms in its 15 QFC stores. Two were installed last month in Bellevue and Kirkland, Wash.
“Kroger believes that everyone deserves to have access to fresh, affordable and delicious food, no matter who you are, how you shop or what you like to eat,” said Suzy Monford, Kroger's group vice president of fresh, in a press release.
That bold statement gets me jazzed about the potential for these farms to grow basil, thyme, dill, lettuce, parsley and mint. I hope grocers could eventually grow tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in stores, but watermelons are probably out of the question.
Yes, just like the good citizens of Friedrichshain, shoppers in Bellevue and Kirkland will be able to enjoy local food that is truly fresh and does not rely on long-distance trucks spewing harmful emissions to pollute our lungs. I hope the QFC tests succeed and lead to having a hydroponic farm in every grocery store in America.
Local food might even go to the next level. For example, if shoppers could milk cows in the dairy department and uncaged chickens could strut around and lay eggs there, grocers could take fresh food to where no supermarket has gone before. Not even in Friedrichshain.