Berlin-based Infarm can’t stop growing. After expanding to Japan this past February, the vertical-farming company is expanding its in-store mini-farms to shops in Canada. This spring, Infarm will partner with the Empire family of brands to provide produce in stores across seven cities: Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg.
Infarm’s model is based on “in-stores,” mini vertical farms located within local supermarkets and other grocery retail outlets.
Emmanuel Evita, global communications director at Infarm, talked to Produce Grower about Infarm’s expansion, how in-store farms can educate consumers and more.
Produce Grower: What effect do you think in-store farms will have on the public’s knowledge of fresh produce growing?
Emmanuel Evita: We’ve found that our in-store farms generate a lot of curiosity and interest from customers. It’s not uncommon to see shoppers stopping to take photos of our farms. They can see the produce growing for themselves and know that they’ll have access to the most sustainable and fresh produce possible. Additionally, through our in-store sampling programs, we’re able to educate consumers on the benefits of our modular approach, and they can taste how fresh and pure the produce is themselves. But ultimately, our mission is to help cities become self-sufficient in their food production while significantly improving the safety, quality and environmental footprint of our food.
PG: How does disease management work in this setting and what are the challenges of keeping plants healthy and pests in check in this environment?
EE: Infarm controls the farms remotely using sensors and a centralized, cloud-based platform that adjusts and improves itself continuously, so each plant grows better than the one before — providing plant seedlings with an ideal combination of light spectrums, temperature, pH and nutrients for optimal growth. From the cloud at our Berlin headquarters, we’re able to gather up-to-the-minute information about how our plants are growing and how they respond to different growth environments on a minute scale. We can make many of the needed adjustments remotely.
PG: So the data on the plants is collected and environmental control is run by Infarm’s AI systems? What are the safeguards in place?
EE: Yes. Infarm controls the farms remotely using sensors and a centralized, cloud-based platform that adjusts and improves itself continuously, so each plant grows better than the one before. Our machine learning and IoT [internet of things] technologies make it possible to collect huge amounts of data from our farms around the world in real time. With more than 700 farms in stores and distribution centers, we’re able to use the data on each one of more than 250,000-plus plants we grow every month to understand their unique growth patterns and offer the highest quality product to consumers.