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'Infarm' Startup Wants To Put a Farm In Every Grocery Store (techcrunch.com) 85

Infarm, a 40-plus person startup based in Berlin, imagines a future where every grocery store has its own farm packed with herbs, vegetables and fruit. "The plants themselves are being monitored by multiple sensors and fed by an internet-controlled irrigation and nutrition system," reports TechCrunch. "Growing out from the center, the basil is at ascending stages of its life, with the most outer positioned ready for you, the customer, to harvest." From the report: The concept might not be entirely new -- Japan has been an early pioneer in vertical farming, where the lack of space for farming and very high demand from a large population has encouraged innovation -- but what potentially sets Infarm apart, including from other startups, is the modular approach and go-to-market strategy it is taking. This means that the company can do vertical farming on a small but infinitely expandable scale, and is seeing Infarm place farms not in offsite warehouses but in customer-facing city locations, such as grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, and schools, enabling the end-customer to actually pick the produce themselves. In contrast, the Infarm system is chemical pesticide-free and can prioritize food grown for taste, color and nutritional value rather than shelf life or its ability to sustain mass production. Its indoor nature means it isn't restricted to seasonality either and by completely eliminating the distance between farmer and consumer, food doesn't get much fresher. When a new type of herb or plant is introduced, Infarm's plant experts and engineers create a recipe or algorithm for the produce type, factoring in nutrition, humidity, temperature, light intensity and spectrum, which is different from system to system depending on what is grown. The resulting combination of IoT, Big Data and cloud analytics is akin to "Farming-as-a-Service," whilst , space permitting, Infarm's modular approach affords the ability to keep adding more farming capacity in a not entirely dissimilar way to how cloud computing can be ramped up at the push of a button.
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'Infarm' Startup Wants To Put a Farm In Every Grocery Store

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  • by slk ( 2510 ) on Monday June 26, 2017 @08:11PM (#54695311)
    The employees at my local grocery store are mostly incapable not damaging packaged goods, and do not appear to possess sufficient brainpower or attention to detail to not stick a gallon of milk on top of a bunch of bananas. The chance of them successfully operating a vertical farm is somewhere between epsilon and zero.
    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      well if you're going to milk a bunch of bananas I don't think it's going to work too well.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      The basic concept is that you don't "operate" it, you plug it in, connect the fresh and wastewater supply, and beyond that it's just scheduled nutrient refills. Monitoring and any troubleshooting is done remotely, not by the local staff. They don't discuss what sort of growth medium they're using or whether the customer is expected to take the whole plant (roots, medium and all), but one presumes that keeping that simple is also part of their design goals.

      Like they said, it's not a new concept. And it's nev

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        you plug it in, connect the fresh and wastewater supply, and beyond that it's just scheduled nutrient refills

        Sounds like the perfect woman.

      • High intensity glasshouses show that you don't just plug it in and sit back. Many things can go wrong including some related to food safety. A lovely idea, but not too meaningful.
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          High intensity glasshouses aren't exactly the same thing. Vertical microfarms generally pursue sterility and plant isolation, meaning that you don't have the same challenges with pest and disease management. They also do more to maintain precise controlled conditions and handle process steps automatically. This all comes at a cost of significantly higher capital costs per unit output, mind you.

      • If there's one thing worse than the employees it's the customers. At least 10% of them don't know how to use the self-checkout properly yet they still go through them. Heck look at the trouble people still have with putting their PIN with their credit card. And then you want them to harvest the right produce from this. I'm willing to bet someone gets stuck in there at least once a week. Never mind the hygiene issues. At least with what they have now (pre-picked bunches stacked up) there's no need for peop

    • by havana9 ( 101033 )
      The solution is simple: change local grocery store it this is possible. I suppose that offering low wages, long working hours and a bad workplace, makes really easy to attract people that can't find other works and then demotivate them further. I know several grocery store and supermarket with clerks that are making a really good work, have a big attention to the clients and the store is always spotless. I konow other grocery stores and supermarkets that are a hellhole.
    • not a bad idea, everyone has a "start" button and gates is living larger than large. good luck to the farmers.
  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Monday June 26, 2017 @08:26PM (#54695375)

    I wish that the term farm would stop being applied to what amount to gardens. A garden has to get pretty damn big and have a pretty big yield before the scale of farm as a term really applies.

    I guess part of my distaste for the abuse of the term stems from smug, self-important people referring to their urban gardening experiments as farms. Great, you've got some plants growing and producing fruit and vegetables. Is the yield even enough to feed your household for a season? If it's not even adequate for subsistence then it may be difficult to call a farm.

    • Great, you've got some plants growing and producing fruit and vegetables. Is the yield even enough to feed your household for a season? If it's not even adequate for subsistence then it may be difficult to call a farm.

      At the high end, it's actually pretty amazing how much yield you can get out of a small space by going vertical. There are people feeding themselves on a quarter acre. I don't think I'd necessarily like to eat what they're eating, but if you were to fill the empty overhead space in a supermarket with some aeroponics (which weigh very little and thus can be supported creatively, so long as you keep the reservoirs on the ground — maybe even underground so as to take advantage of consistent ambient tempe

      • At the high end, it's actually pretty amazing how much yield you can get out of a small space by going vertical.

        Yes, there's a lot of space between the shelves and the ceiling in the average supermarket, but have you ever wondered why? It's so that all of the hot air generated by the machinery, the employees and the customers has someplace to go, because hot air rises. This way, they get the ventilation they need without using as much electricity for cooling as they'd otherwise need. Now, what happens
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Grocery stores have high ceilings not only for heat management, but also for:

          1) Fire safety. It becomes harder for flame to reach the roof, and smoke accumulates at a much higher height. Sprinkler system design also becomes easier.
          2) It creates a more "open" feel, which customers prefer. Some grocery stores even put mirrors on the upper walls to make the space feel even more open. The vertical height is also used for displays, signs, etc.
          3) In some cases, excess inventory is stacked vertically.
          4) Simpler, m

        • by TWX ( 665546 )

          In a nutshell, the reason that conventional farming and ranching still produces the vast majority of the food we eat is because it's the least expensive means to produce that food. Hell, in a lot of parts of the country we don't even artificially irrigate the fields, we simply sculpt the dirt and embed seeds in it during a certain time of the year and let the rains and time do a large part of the work. Fields do require maintenance and monitoring, and equipment that does the work needs maintenance as well

    • I suspect most farmers can't survive on their own. A peanut farmer still needs to buy his bread and milk. Or are you thinking of those old picture book farmers who raise everything from their own cows, chickens and pigs right down to their own corn, lettuce and tomatoes? That or you're looking at some extremely paranoid but wealthy survivalist with a hydroponic greenhouse fifty feet underground.
      • by TWX ( 665546 )

        The point isn't that all farms are subsistence farms, but that the to qualify it needs the acreage to be able to provide for subsistence farming. Obviously the old, "40 acres and a mule," addage doesn't specifically apply anymore if one has mechanized tools to assist in the process of farming, but there's a lower limit that is more than a suburban residence is going to provide.

    • How small do you think these "farms" are? They are selling produce for an entire store, which is probably going to be frequented by thousands of people a week.
    • I wish that the term farm would stop being applied to what amount to gardens. A garden has to get pretty damn big and have a pretty big yield before the scale of farm as a term really applies.

      Yeah, because language is impervious to change. Notions of what a garden and a farm are are changing to reflect the convergence between the two. It is a convergence that makes the difference irrelevant at the small/in-house scale.

      I guess part of my distaste for the abuse of the term stems from smug, self-important people referring to their urban gardening experiments as farms.

      Pot tells kettle. Who's the smug, self-important person now that you made your supremely subjective opinion obvious? Yeah, here is me, here is my point, where is my cookie?

      Great, you've got some plants growing and producing fruit and vegetables.

      Dude, vertical/hydroponic farms produce enormous yields relative to size. Singapore, for example, produces en

  • As long as they are engaged in such irrational thinking, they might as well be wishing for a pony to go with the farm.
  • by quonset ( 4839537 ) on Monday June 26, 2017 @08:47PM (#54695483)

    fed by an internet-controlled irrigation and nutrition system

    Ah yes, the allure of everything internet. As we've seen with the rock-solid security built into IoT, what could possibly go wrong? All that matters is it's on the internet.

  • by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Monday June 26, 2017 @09:58PM (#54695755)
    I certainly hope the people who are actually trying to implement this understand math better than the summary writer.
  • You cannot expect there to be no insects just because it's indoors. Nature finds a way. This will do more harm than good. And, you know they'll charge more for something that tastes fake. I'll take a tomato with a couple of bug bites from the actual outdoors before I'd eat that air conditioned robo crap.
    • It's just hydroponics. You've probably had some and didn't realize. I have an AeroGarden hydroponics kit in my kitchen and when I use the commercial variety of seeds it only tastes a bit better than the store because it's fresher. But when I use heirloom varieties where the taste hasn't been bred out of the vegetables it's amazing. It's the same thing with these. It will mostly depend on what varieties of plants they use.

  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Monday June 26, 2017 @11:04PM (#54696039)

    I have my doubts about this. The supermarket will be giving up a lot of floor space for just one or two items. I have a small hydroponic unit in my kitchen and I use it for lettuce instead of herbs. But when I start lettuce it takes three to four weeks for me to be able to pick leaves off. Even if the company has been able to shave that down to a couple of weeks that's a lot of trays of herbs sitting there not earning money for the store while a few trays are. I'm sure that the store would rather have the space devoted to something else that would be earring money.

    Then the store will have to pay for extra electricity (lights and heating) and water. There will be extra staff time to take care of the unit and help people to have problems getting the produce themselves.

    The company could have put in a unique refrigerator containing their picked herbs and opened a facility in each city (or offered the stores one in a region). I don't expect to see one of these "farm" in a store that I go to.

    • I think a better plan would be to have fresh produce grown in professional farms, and then brought to the store when it's about ready to sell. You could still put them in a climate controlled display to keep them in optimal condition until they get sold, but that requires a lot less care.

    • I think you're correct. When I was growing up, our family lived on a quarter acre plot of land, which is pretty big for most suburban plots, with a decent-sized garden in back with very good river-basin soil. We couldn't even completely feed our own family of four with that large garden. A single isle unit will likely be ravaged into barren emptiness within the first few days, after which it will take weeks to "restock" itself, during which time it's completely useless to the store. This should be obvio

  • ...and the nutrition comes from where exactly?? No sunlight, dense farming, and stale soil. Tell me where the nutrition comes from. No wait, let me guess. They pour a mysterious ooze onto it. Great.

    I think I'll choose my plants growing under the sun, under the rain, with worms, and bugs, and rabbits, and, dirt-I-mean-soil-I-mean-what's-that-word-oh-yeah-we-used-it-to-name-our-planet earth.

  • This is a scam. They replacr sunlight with flouresceny tubes and then make these lying claims in their web site:

    "PIONEERING ON-DEMAND FARMING SERVICES TO HELP ... REDUCING THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT.

    REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
    BY ...

    "IF EVERY CITY ON EARTH WERE TO GROW 10% OF ITS PRODUCE INDOORS, IT WOULD ALLOW US TO TAKE 340,000 SQUARE MILES OF FARMLAND BACK TO FOREST. THAT, IN TURN, COULD ABSORB ENOUGH CARBON DIOXIDE TO BRING THE LEVEL IN EARTHâ(TM)S ATMOSPHERE BACK TO WHERE IT WAS IN 1980."
    PROF. DIC

  • The problem with putting farms in urban areas and even worse in stores is that is VERY expensive real estate. Almost all farming is done out in rural areas where the real estate prices and taxes are lower. If you farm in a high cost area you end up having to pass on both of these costs (buying land, ongoing real estate taxes each year) to your consumers. That means either your prices must be higher or your profits lower.

    I'm a farmer. I bought land outside where my markets are so that I can farm on lower cos

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite. -- Bertrand Russell, "Skeptical Essays", 1928

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