Cape Town – In a South African retailer first, ‘vertical farms’ can be seen with its escalating shelves of greenery that is said to use no pesticides, 95 percent less water and 85 percent less fertiliser.
It is currently being piloted at Pick n Pay’s flagship stores in Cape Town and Sandton.
Eight vertical growing stacks with 10 plants per stack can be seen in these stores, however it serves only as a method demonstration for Pick n Pay’s partner in the new initiative CAN-Agri.
It's modelled on CAN-Agri’s commercial facility in Pretoria that consists of 24 rows with 200 growing stacks at a height of six metres.
Seedlings are first grown in bio-degradable baskets for three weeks in its nursery greenhouse before being placed into grow tubes of its main greenhouse where the 6m tall growing stacks are situated.
“The growing stacks are strategically spaced in rows to allow for maximum sunlight. Purified, oxygenated, nutrient-rich water is fed through the top of the grow tubes, it then gravitates down through the tubes flowing over the roots of the plants and is recycled in a continuous closed-loop system,” CAN-Agri’s CEO Francois van der Merwe explained.
“The controlled growing environment delivers a consistent product and means we only harvest what is ordered. Our technology also helps us do many short growing cycles (three weeks) without any negative effect on our production output. Harvesting a younger plant also helps us deliver flawless leaves that just taste better,” he adds.
Meanwhile, since the produce is grown using a hydroponic method and does not need to be washed – its shelf life is extended.
“Our produce is free of soil or insects so we don’t wash the produce. The normal washing process bruises and damages the produce, shortening its shelf-life,” van der Merwe said.
CAN-Agri has been a supplier to Pick n Pay under its PnP label for the past three years.
However, customers will not be able to directly purchase from the piloted vertical farms in store, an assortment of salad leaves with different lettuces and herbs, whole baby butter lettuce heads and cos leaves will be available to purchase in pre-packed punnets made from recycled plastic.
Later this year, customers will be able to track their produce from seed to table van der Merwe said, once QR code is added to packaging.
“Customers will be able to see where their food was grown, when was it planted, what were the environmental conditions it grows in, what nutrients it received, when was it harvested, packed, and supplied to the store,” he said.