Originally published on June 11th, 2020 for GreenBiz
The great panic buying of 2020 revealed the time it takes for food to go from farm to shelves. The curtain was pulled back on something the shopper rarely thinks about — supply chain logistics. As grocery store shelves emptied, the problem wasn’t necessarily lack of food but a drastic shift in demand that caused traditional distribution engines to sputter.
For example, lettuce takes between 30 and 45 days to grow in a field farm. According to a 2001 study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, traditionally grown lettuce travels about 2,000 miles to get to Chicago grocery stores. So by the time prepackaged greens are bought by consumers, that produce can be almost two weeks old. These long lead times caused those empty shelves in March.
Vertical farms have struggled to become a major force in the grocery market. Their products are usually limited to leafy greens, and the high labor costs have made turning a profit challenging for many. But the pandemic clarified their role within a more sustainable food system. Vertical farms, with their hyperlocality and ability to quickly grow new crops, can step in to fill retail shelves when traditional farms falter.
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