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OPINIONFresh Food

The Ultimate Fresh Grocerant Concept

Indoor farming may soon provide retailers year-round supplies of produce

The Lempert Report

Grocery retailers are struggling to compete online, in-store and in their prepared foods offerings, including their grocerants. They struggle to offer local foods as many local producers are not able to guarantee a consistent supply. It’s time to own local.

So you could become a forager and spend lots of time and money testing out a slew of farmers to find a few that works, or you could become your own self-sustaining microfarmer, with a watchdog to make sure you don’t screw up. 

Babylon Micro-Farms is a modular farm startup based in Charlottesville, Va. The company sells 32-inch deep, 66-inch wide, 960-inch tall units that use controlled-environment hydroponics to grow leafy greens, herbs and edible flowers. There is no soil, sunlight or standard-type seeds. Babylon uses seed pods: There are 227 varieties on trays. The units are remotely managed to determine the correct amount of water and light with real-time data collection via the cloud. A 15-square-foot microfarm is capable of producing as much produce as 2,000 square feet of outdoor farmland under this controlled environment. Just imagine what a wall of three or four of these units could supply to your operation.

Not only can you tout local and guarantee a year-round supply for your grocerant, but the eye appeal alone will scream fresh to your shoppers. As reported in Forbes, Babylon has a controlled environment test facility in Charlottesville where plant scientists run trials on seed varieties from around the world, dialing in tailored growth recipes to produce higher yields and consistent flavors. The technology consists of an array of sensors and utilizes camera vision to create an automated feedback loop that analyzes the data to increase the rate at which growth recipes can be developed.

What is so interesting to me about the concept is the business model. Retailers can agree to a two-year lease, plus pay a monthly fee. Babylon installs the machines, provides a subscription of growing supplies and remotely manages the crop growth. All you have to do is pick the produce and prepare in your kitchen.

Babylon is a startup, but it is well past the testing phase and the first major act of scaling is currently underway, installing their farms in major corporate restaurants, cafeterias, resort hotels and grocery stores. 

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