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Tokyo supermarkets turn to in-store vertical farms to cut carbon emissions

An Infarm employee harvests vegetables grown in the small vertical farm at the Summit supermarket's Gotanno branch in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, on Jan. 21, 2022. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- Seven supermarkets in the Japanese capital are growing some of their herbs and vegetables in little LED-lit vertical farms in-store to cut energy used for shipping, greenhouse gas emissions and food waste.

    "Vertical farms" are indoor vegetable farms, where the produce is grown in racks (hence the "vertical" part) lit by LEDs and fed by nutrients dissolved in water, and without any agricultural chemicals. The small versions that began being installed in the seven supermarkets in January 2021 are the work of the Japanese subsidiary of Infarm, a Dutch company that runs vertical farms mostly in Europe and North America.

    Now, the stores grow their own leafy greens like cilantro and Italian basil from seedlings shipped from a production center in Tokyo. They are harvested and sold after about three weeks, at prices that stay stable because the growing process is unaffected by unseasonable weather, bugs or natural catastrophes.

    "We hope this will help inspire people to value food production and consumption with a low environmental impact," Infarm PR representative Hikaru Ohki, 30, said.

    Data on the vegetables' growth status, obtained by sensors and cameras, are shared with Infarm's overseas headquarters through a cloud server. Their growth is remotely monitored around the clock, and workers here in Japan care for the produce twice a week, including harvesting and putting in new seedlings.

    At the Summit supermarket chain's Gotanno branch in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, the racks of growing greens are right beside the vegetable section, and the produce is sold on the spot. Supermarket manager Yasuhiro Shibata, 50, said, "We're glad to see the initiative's effect, and not only in the numbers. Children get really interested in the process, watching the plants being grown and then harvested."

    (Japanese original by Kota Yoshida, Photo Group)

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