BlogJanuary 13th 2022

Livin’ La Vida Local

Author: Sudhanshu Sarronwala, Chief Impact Officer at Infarm

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The temperatures stay low north of the equator, and snow in some parts covers the sidewalks as we enter the new year. I hope you had the chance to spend some quality time with your loved ones and enjoy some great home-cooked meals. I don't know if you travelled to visit your family or if you flew at all. All I know for sure is you would have had to buy some airline tickets. Not just for yourself, but for those who get to fly at your expense all across the world. Not just during the holidays, but every single day.

And it's not just you who pays for their tickets. We all pay without even thinking about it. And because we all chip in, the ticket prices don't ruin our day. We barely feel it in our pockets. But make no mistake about it; we feel it all right, whether we are aware of it or not.

We pay for their flight tickets and the gas that fuels the trucks that bring them from the farm to the city. Of course, we pay cash, but we also pay in loss of flavour and nutritional values. Not to mention the cost of emissions due to the transport. And the true price just keeps getting higher. Probably not quite what you or any other reasonable consumer wanted. We’re talking about the food on your plate, of course.

Clearly, we all want food that has no interest in joining a frequent flyer program.

How to ensure buying local is always on the table

We must not forget that buying local is not always an option, since it’s impossible to grow certain crops in certain areas. In some cases, the climate is not well-suited for these types of crops. In others, the country can't produce its food due to land or water limitations. That is why most global fruits and vegetables are grown in only five Mediterranean climate zones.

But what if, instead of your food flying in from a different climate zone, you could bring the climate zone closer to where you are? Wouldn't that be fantastic? It undoubtedly would. And that is precisely what Vertical Farming and the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) industry is all about.

At Infarm, for instance, we build a global network of highly sophisticated, fully-automated farming units which act as "climate machines". As of December 2021, we have distributed more than 1,400 of these machines across ten countries. By growing our plants in cities, in proximity to the end consumer, so far, Infarm's "climate machines" have saved over 3 million food km. According to our projections, as we keep expanding our global farming network, we will have saved over 6 million food km by this time next year.

The vertical farming industry is one of the modern tools revolutionising the supply chain by making it possible to grow whatever (ok, with some limitations), whenever, and wherever we want. And given that it can eliminate climate impacts or transportation-related issues from the equation, vertical farming becomes far less vulnerable to supply-chain shocks and much more climate-resilient. 

Vertical farming is also one of the tools that will play a significant role in making the megacities of the future self-sufficient in their food production by transforming urban spaces into growing centres.

Let's look at the big picture

It would be somewhat naive to argue that buying local is always the best thing for the environment. For example, it's excellent not to involve any planes or ships in your relationship with your food by buying locally grown fruit. But what if they were picked in September, and you made your purchase weeks later? Neither the environment nor your taste buds will benefit from the months those poor locally grown fruits spent in refrigeration.

There are many factors involved in the environmental impact of our food. But is it even possible to take all these factors under consideration? Can the retailers supply all the necessary information that would potentially allow us to make better choices? Is it common for the best option to be the most accessible? Unfortunately, the answers are not always, not really, and not yet.

The good news is that although the vertical farming industry is still in its early, rapid growth stage, it holds the key to making our consumer decisions as simple as picking a strawberry or biting into a mushroom. It will take us a bit more time to realise our "climate machines'" full potential and start living "la vida local", but we are getting there. Fast.

To do that, we are working tirelessly on increasing our efficiency: lowering our resource use while increasing productivity. We are also constantly expanding our catalogue. That's why soon enough, you will be able to feast on locally grown, freshly picked strawberries in the middle of January in Berlin. And it is going to be the best you have ever had because we’ll provide it with the optimal growing conditions.

Just imagine: locally grown premium produce, year-round, anywhere, with no fluctuation in quality or pricing. This day will come, and it's closer than ever. Until then, I would like to wish you and your family a joyful new year - and one with fewer food miles.