For just about a year now, Central Market in Dallas has tested out offering produce that was grown on-site in a Growtainer. Evidently, that partnership has gone so well that Central Market is making the relationship more permanent and expanding it with the addition of another Growtainer.
Growtainers are modified shipping containers that provide a food-safe indoor growing environment. Each one contains a vertical rack system for holding crops, crop-specific LED lighting fixtures, and a proprietary irrigation system. Growtainers come in 40, 45 and 53-foot sizes and are customized for each customer, costing anywhere from $75,000 – $125,000 a piece. The amount a Growtainer can produce depends on the crop.
The Growtainer at Central Market offers leafy greens and herbs grown on-site in a 53-foot container. While he couldn’t provide specific numbers, Growtainer Founder and President Glenn Behrman told me by phone that “demand outpaces supply” for the market’s store-grown produce. “We’ve proven the concept,” he said.
Central Market expanding its relationship with Growtainer helps push the idea of produce grown on-site more into the mainstream. Other players in this sector include Inafarm, which has been installing indoor vertical farming systems at food wholesalers in Berlin. And here at home, indoor farming startup Plenty raised $200 million last year from investors including Jeff Bezos (who happens to run Amazon, which owns Whole Foods).
As on-site farming technology improves and gets cheaper and easier to use, it’s not hard to imagine more stores opting to grow their own fresh produce in-house instead of having it transported across the country.
Behrman says that there are Growtainers all over the world for a variety of agricultural and pharmaceutical customers. He built two Growtainers for the Community Foodbank of Eastern Oklahoma so they could grow their own produce, and he’s talked with both the military and the United Nations about installing Growatiners for them in more remote (and volatile) areas.
One group Behrman hasn’t chatted with is venture capitalists. He laughed when I asked him about funding. “We have no investors, and we’re profitable,” said Behrman. But in the next breath, he said he realizes that his current go-it-alone approach won’t scale. “I think once this Central Market project expands and becomes more mainstream, I will have to look for some funding.”
Until that time, Behrman wants to have Growtainers produce more high value crops. “Lettuce and leafy greens are not that challenging,” he said. Behrman, who’s been in horticulture since 1971, believes Growtainers could be excellent for growing exotic mushrooms that have short shelf lives, or fungi that historically could only grow in particular seasons.
Perhaps after another year or so you’ll see truffles and porcinis grown on-site and offered at Central Market (and elsewhere).