The pandemic has forced people to reconsider our supply chains, and the lettuce of tomorrow might be grown in your neighborhood rather than in a neighboring state.
According to Mike Murphy, editor at Protocol, there's a growing movement to reclaim spaces in cities and towns across the U.S. to grow produce locally, using farms that fit in anywhere they can. Companies like Eden Green Technology and Bowery Farming are aiming to use technology to create a network of distributed microfarms that can supply communities with the produce they need locally.
Early on in the pandemic, grocery stores were ransacked by people concerned the goods they needed wouldn't be restocked anytime soon. Retailers weren't prepared for the crush, and even after new or accelerated pivots to ecommerce, problems persisted: If everyone needs to be socially distanced in a distribution center, or if someone tests positive at a processing plant and an entire shift needs to quarantine, it becomes that much harder to keep shelves fully stocked.
For produce that can only be grown in certain climates, the challenges became even more severe. In March, borders around the world closed, and international trade became much harder. Even getting produce from one side of the U.S. to the other was tough; on top of a pandemic, the country is experiencing a shortage of truckers. Some grocers turned to whatever outlets they could to source things for their barren shelves.
For Whole Foods in the Northeast, the answer was Bowery Farming. The company's nearby vertical farm in Kearny, New Jersey, allowed it to deliver products right to the store, rather than a distribution center. Prior to the pandemic, this path wasn't particularly economical for Bowery, the company's chief revenue officer, Carmela Cugini, told me. But after Whole Foods' distribution center was having pandemic-related issues, it was the only approach. "At one point they said, 'Hey, ship us anything you have,' because their shelves were empty," Cugini said.