LEDsmagazine.com SEPTEMBER 2017 27
lighting | HORTICULTURE
Transportation costs and time are the nemies of getting fresh produce to consumers, and are a significant driving force behind the proliferation of LED-lit
vertical farms located near urban population centers. For example, Green Sense Farms
located in Indiana has a vertical farm in a
warehouse that uses 8000 4-ft linear LED fixtures to grow micro greens, herbs, and lettuce
for supply to the greater Chicago area (http://
bit.ly/2f WkMA1). But Texas grocer Central
Market wants to reduce transportation time
and cost even more dramatically, and has a
vertical farm with solid-state lighting (SSL) in
a recycled shipping container located outside
the backdoor of one of its Dallas-area stores.
Customers at that store can opt for store-grown lettuces (Fig. 1) and herbs that have a
commute of about one minute to reach the
Central Market is an offshoot of mainstream grocery chain H-E-B. There are about
ten of the specialty stores located around the
state of Texas. Visit one and it feels something like a Whole Foods market on steroids.
There are even more specialty items in every
part of the store. When we visited the Central Market on East Lovers Lane in Dallas,
for example, there was a tomato display that
seemed to be around 20 ft long or more and
housed dozens of heirloom varieties. The
variety in every department — bakery, fish,
meat, cheeses, and more — was amazing
and all appeared to be absolutely top quality.
The grocer sources products from all
over the world including wines and cheeses,
but there is a clear focus on freshness in the
produce section. The store doesn’t exclu-
sively sell organic products, but the com-
pany’s website says that out of 700 variet-
ies of fruits and vegetables, 150 are organic.
Moreover, the organic label may not even
be the critical qualification in the verti-
cal-farming era where hydroponically-fed
lettuces and greens don’t even require
washing ( http://bit.ly/2bt5A97).
Motivation and business model
Central Market had a number of reasons that
Grocer uses LED lighting for
led it to experiment with growing its own
produce at the aforementioned store loca-
tion. There are hard costs associated with
transportation and soft costs with spoilage.
Some produce may be harvested three weeks
before making its way into a consumer’s
meal and most everyone agrees fresh tastes
better. The executives behind the Central
Market project have said that taste and
quality are driving forces behind the exper-
iment. Moreover, the potential exists for
using LED-based horticultural lighting with
tunable light recipes to change the taste or
the look of a plant, although such research
is in the early stages. Light recipes will be
a hot topic at our upcoming Horticultural
Lighting Conference set for Oct. 17 in Denver,
CO ( horticulturelightingconference.com/
usa/; see “Cultivating horticultural science
knowledge in Colorado” on p. 30).
Of course, the cost of any such local-farm-
ing initiative is a critical item. Central Mar-
ket has not released any information about
the cost of what is called a Growtainer by its
manufacturer, Green Tech Agro. Ultimately,
the cost to buy, install, and operate the ver-
tical farm will have to achieve return on
investment if the hyper-local initiative is to
progress beyond one store. Central Market
has said that the store-grown produce will
be priced similarly to the same type of prod-
ucts from its other specialty suppliers.
The store is selling the produce with the
MAURY WRIGHT explores how a health-conscious Texas grocery store is using vertical farming and SSL in
a recycled shipping container to offer customers the freshest possible herbs, lettuce, and other greens.
FIG. 1. Store-grown produce such as lettuce is branded at the Central Market in Dallas
and sold in a dedicated area with the plants live and roots attached in soil-less media.