Whole Foods Market recently announced that it's teaming up with New York's Gotham Greens to build the nation's first commercial-scale greenhouse atop a supermarket at the company's Brooklyn location opening in September 2013. What took them so long?
Supermarkets have been gradually increasing in size over the last half-century. It's not uncommon that they now sprawl city blocks even without the extra space needed for parking lots. And in most cases, there they sit, selling food trucked in from around the world when an otherwise unused rooftop could be serving to feed the community at a fraction of the cost. I won't say I told you so, but I've been saying this for a long time: supermarkets should grow their own food. Like. Duh.
It's not much of a surprise that Whole Foods is the first to go in this direction. The retail chain focused on organic and natural foods has recently invested in a huge indoor vertical/aquaponic farm in Illinois, and with its recent announcement requiring all foods containing GMO ingredients to be labeled (by 2018), it's clear the retailer is becoming more invested in the quality of the food it sells.
The greenhouse will provide locally grown food to all of the New York area's nine Whole Foods Markets. Gotham Greens will pay to build the greenhouse and Whole Foods will purchase the products, which includes leafy greens, basil, tomatoes and cucumbers. What Whole Foods can't buy, Gotham Greens can sell to other retailers in the area.
Growing food at the location or pretty darn close to where you sell it has a huge impact on profit margin. Just ask any farmer with a roadside fruit stand. Consumers love this concept because it means the food is super fresh, retaining more nutrients and flavor. And who doesn't love the facts that growing green things on roofs can decrease heating and cooling bills, provide the neighborhood with more oxygen and fewer fossil fuel exhausts that come with trucking in fruit from Mexico?
Still, don't expect to see drastic price decreases on your organic kale. The retailer will stay competitive. But isn't it worth supporting these efforts even if we don't see an immediate impact on our wallets?
Can you just imagine (please, maybe if we all do it at once…) Wal-Mart stores growing their own produce? Some restaurants already do this, and it makes for considerably better tasting food.
If you're wondering what will happen to our nation's farmers if supermarkets start building greenhouses, relax. It won't put farmers out of business. They may shift away from certain crops if stores can grow their own lettuces, but it certainly won't put them out of business. What this does indicate is the possibility of a brave delicious and new world, where we become more invested in what we eat and where it was grown, rather than whether it's on sale, microwaveable or tastes as good as the picture on the box looks.
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Image: Whole Foods