While we haven’t arrived at a future where every corner grocery has an in-store farming system with rows and rows of produce, it isn’t for lack of trying.

This is especially true for METRO Group, Germany’s largest retailer, who has been experimenting with in-store farming since early 2016.

That’s when the retailer launched Kräuter Garten (herb garden), the first retail in-store farming installation in Europe. The technology for METRO’s first foray into vertical farming was provided by INFARM, a vertical farming startup based in Germany. Since the launch of  Kräuter Garten in Berlin, other retailers such as EDEKA (Germany’s largest grocery store chain) have since taken an interest in in-store growing.

Now METRO is at it again, launching another vertical farming experiment with Farmlab.one, a joint project between the retail giant and Schmiede.ONE, a German innovation lab focused on future business models that intermingle agriculture and cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The project will be managed by James Lindsay of Schmiede.ONE in an indoor lab in Düsseldorf. METRO has provided resources in the form of indoor farming racks from TowerGarden, the indoor farming division of Juice+. The project is starting with three crops to start, which you can watch here via Periscope.

While the project is a modest one, it’s a sign of continued interest in vertical, in-building farming by a large food retailer. In the US, we’ve seen growing interest in solutions from companies like Farmshelf, and just last month we saw one of the biggest investments ever in a vertical farming startup when Jeff Bezos, among others, invested $200 million in stealthy startup Plenty.

A comparison of yields and resource consumption of indoor vs. soil-based farming. Source: Schmiede One

While it’s unlikely that in-store vertical farms could produce at the scale to meet the total demand for fresh produce purchased at a high-volume urban retail storefront, it’s clear that soilless vertical farms produce at a much high rate of productivity compared to soil based farming, which means much less overall space is needed to produce the same amount of produce. With such high yields, one can envision a future where a mix of in-store grown produce combined with other warehouse grown urban farmed food could be enough to meet a large percentage of overall demand for fresh produce.

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  1. In the US, CEA Advisors has developed a custom built Growtainer® for Central Market to produce fresh, local leafy greens behind the store. It’s a very innovative and successful project which has substantial interest from other grocery retailers.

  2. You don’t really need to use artificial light. Using LED’s is definitely a good idea if renewable energy can make is cost effective. Simply having a greenhouse increases production uses less water, and eliminates the need for pesticides, and could allow food to be grown anywhere!. Natural sunlight is less complex and can enable farmers to grow anything at the moment. instead of having a single level we call the ground, multiple levels can be built!. LED’s would be best suited during the winter time for the time being. Reading how vertical farms have gone bankrupt from energy costs isn’t good news. Humans need a surplus of cheap energy that will only be achievable if we can kick the fossil fuel addiction.

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