Consumers are increasingly demanding access to locally grown produce – even at big box stores. Target heard that call, and they’re answering by offering the freshest and most local produce a customer could possibly want—by installing vertical gardens to grow vegetables and herbs right inside stores. The effort will begin with a series of trials in Spring 2017 and, if successful, Target locations across the country could be growing crispy, leafy greens before you know it.
While indoor farming is not new, even for the United States, the act of combining crop production with a retail store is more or less uncharted territory. Target has been quick to pursue hot retail trends, and the chain’s Food + Future CoLab, a collaboration with the MIT Media Lab and Ideo, has been researching in-store micro-farming for nearly a year. While leafy greens are the most common crop for most types of indoor vertical farms, Target could eventually branch out to offer potatoes, beets, and zucchini. Forbes reports that MIT may even allow Target to access ancient seeds for rare tomatoes or peppers.
The benefits of indoor farming are almost too numerous to name. The setup, typically aquaponic in nature, uses less water than traditional in-ground farming. Raising vegetables, greens, and herbs in an indoor, climate-controlled environment also means a year-round growing season. Pesticides aren’t required, and the absence of weather means no unexpected crop losses, trimming both the cost and the risk of wasted food and resulting in a consistent source of sustainable food.
While a number of enormous indoor farms already exist in the US, only a few big grocers are growing their own produce. Whole Foods in Gowanus, Brooklyn unveiled a massive rooftop greenhouse in late 2013, where 20,000 square feet of vegetables are grown year-round without pesticides. Three years later, with Target just announcing its upcoming pilot program, it’s tough to say how long it might be before those red-and-white aisles offer up fresh crops of their own, but it’s safe to say this is an interesting step forward in the future of retail grocery shopping as well as easy access to locally grown, pesticide-free greens.