Publix GreenWise Market, which is focused on natural, eco-friendly, local and organic products, has instituted a pilot with hydroponics farmers Brick Street Farms to grow, harvest and pack fresh hydroponic lettuce inside a 40-foot container farm on-site at the Lakeland location. However, this isn’t the first hyperlocal effort the retailer is making.
Earlier this year, Publix collaborated with Vertical Roots on an interactive mobile hydroponic farm where customers could step inside to experience an actual hydroponic farming environment and learn all facets of the pod growing process—right down to the proprietary technology that controls the environment. When the pandemic hit in March, Publix also partnered with Kalera (a hydroponic farm growing lettuce on top of a Marriot hotel) to sell its hydroponic lettuce in stores since the farm had lost all of its customers—hotels, restaurants, caterers and convention centers—just as the first harvest was ready. For the Kalera lettuce it couldn’t sell in its stores, the retailer purchased it to donate to local food banks through Feeding America.
Customers can observe the hydroponic growth process through a window on the side of the container farm, which holds the equivalent of 2.5 to 3 acres of traditional farmland. Hydroponic farming substitutes soil for mineral-rich water. With no dirt, there are no bugs or pests and no need for any pesticides, herbicides or insecticides.
The container farm produces a harvest of 720 heads of lettuce each week. “We decided to have a Brick Street Farms GreenWise container at the store site because it fits into our our sustainability efforts,” Albert Gottuso, Publix produce category manager, said in a video introducing the farm. “This is something that we’ve been thinking about and wanting to do for many years. We feel like this is the future, it’s a sustainability message and I think our customers see it as well.”
The lettuce travels mere feet, rather than miles, taking the “carbon” out of the delivery “footprint.” Publix GreenWise’s foray into hydroponic farming is unique because while other grocers are exploring ways to bring farming into/near their stores, most of these are based on contracts between grocers and large-scale/international companies. GreenWise Market, however, chose to partner directly with farmers right in the backyards of the communities it serves. Brick Street Farms is based in St. Petersburg, Fla. The people who first made possible the concept of “buy local” are pioneering this hyperlocal concept.