Infarm, an Amsterdam-headquartered urban farming company founded in Berlin, recently partnered with Sobeys Inc. to bring vertical greenhouses to grocery stores across Canada.
The partnership aims to bring fresh, sustainable produce to consumers nationwide and has the potential to provide better food security amid shortages and supply chain issues due to the pandemic.
This new farming model is as much as 400 times more efficient than soil-based agriculture and uses no chemical pesticides. Vertical greenhouses require 95 per cent less land and uses 95 per cent less water. Because crops are grown directly in cities, they also require 90 per cent fewer food miles to get to consumers’ plates.
Kara Hallett, a nurse with a passion for cooking for her family of three, tries to support local food and farmers whenever possible. Hallett grows herbs in her backyard during the summer and said Infarm greenhouses would allow her to cook more of her favourite staples during winter.
“There’s a very good chance I’ll use (the greenhouses) more often rather than relying on dried herbs,” Hallett said. “I’m more likely to invest a bit more to buy local produce, so I could see us making more of my favourite recipes more often.”
The convenience and quality in flavour is what inspires Hallett to purchase produce from the greenhouse, but said she appreciates that the environmental impact is less.
“I would anticipate that with supply chain issues that a lot of our produce that we rely on from California and Mexico … will have obstacles in getting to us,” Hallet said. “So if we have our own local source of food, then I imagine we won’t have these ebbs and flows of products.”
With 75 varieties of herbs, salads and leafy greens already available, Infarm is working to expand with 40 new crops such as mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, peas and strawberries by the end of this year.
Luke Acheson, the assistant produce manager at Safeway Shawnessy, assists in the upkeep of the in-store greenhouse when company representatives from Infarm aren’t present.
“My role is ensuring quality … I am culling products, which means taking bad product out … and just filling up new products that they supply,” Acheson said. “A whole other company comes in and harvests (the plants) and puts new product out. I’m just there to help when they’re not there.”
Acheson said the response to the greenhouse in his store varies from other locations. He said his store is not doing quite as well as they could be, but notes that other stores have had very positive feedback.
“I love (the greenhouses),” said Acheson. “I personally use (the herbs) for cooking, and I think they’re one of the best herbs I’ve ever had in my life.”
Acheson said the greenhouses help with keeping good herbs in stock due to recent food shortages and shipping complications, with some early indications suggesting the vaccine mandate for truckers has worsened conditions alongside labour shortages.
Infarm poses a new solution to supplying Canadians with fresh, easy-to-access produce that, as of now, remains affordable for most. A bundle of herbs from the greenhouse costs $2.49, and over 20 Safeway and Sobeys locations around Calgary contain an in-store greenhouse.
Infarm and Sobeys Inc. announced in July an agreement to accelerate the availability and distribution of fresh produce to an additional four of Canada’s 10 provinces by 2023. With 97 employees on the ground today, Infarm’s Canadian team will grow more than 50 per cent to 160 by the end of the year.