In cooperation with Israeli agricultural technology company, Vertical Field, herbs and lettuces are grown and harvested from local seedlings in a shipping container in front of the Billa Plus store at Wienerberg Straße 27 in Vienna-Favoriten. The plants are grown above each other on several levels, and they are sold directly in the market after harvesting; one container can produce 2,000 to 3,000 units per month - this means that the market is supplied with fresh herbs and lettuces from the container almost every day. For starters, there is parsley, basil, cilantro, oak leaf lettuce, as well as lollo lettuce - all harvested produce is sold with soil-pressed cubes to ensure a longer shelf life.
"Vertical farming is a forward-looking idea to offer food as fresh as possible. At Billa, we are increasingly looking at alternative concepts and ideas to support sustainable ways of food production or - as in this case - to go down this path ourselves. Vertical farming means optimal crop yields on the smallest possible area and only a few meters from the shelf," Billa Sales Director Eric Scharnitz explains, adding, "This increases security of supply and our customers can look forward to local assortments: grown throughout the year and literally right on our doorstep."
The container at Wienerberg Straße 27 started its first growing cycle at the end of July. Through a glass pane, interested customers can watch the plants grow. The first harvest of parsley, basil, and more is targeted for the second half of August - from then on, the fresh herbs and lettuces will also be available in the Billa Plus store. A second container is planned to be set up in the vicinity of Vienna before the end of the year.
Agriculture in the vertical
The cooperation with Vertical Field allows Billa to grow vegetables and fruit in densely populated urban areas on just a few square meters year-round and anti-cyclically. This is made possible by 16-hour lighting with LED lamps, a climate control system designed to consistently ensure optimal temperature and humidity in the space, and a dedicated water and nutrient supply for the plants. According to Vertical Field, the climate-friendly effects are quite remarkable: 90% less water consumption, 50% less CO2 emissions, and 30 times less space required than growing on the ground. The protected environment also eliminates the need for pesticides, and since produce is sold directly at the local market, transportation distances are minimized. Planting and harvesting according to the needs and adapted to each location should also ensure less food waste in the market.
"I think we all need to think about how we will be able to feed a growing world population in the future, while at the same time harvest yields are getting smaller and smaller due to soil sealing, monocultures, the use of chemicals, and the consequences of climate change. Developing new agricultural land at the expense of our ecosystem and climate cannot be the solution here, but vertical farming can be - especially in urban areas," says Ronen Redel, VP of Business Development of Vertical Field, one of the leading companies in the field of agricultural technology, which develops various vertical solutions for the urban ecosystem. Various projects have already been implemented worldwide, together with food retailers, restaurants, and other institutions. Vertical Field provides infrastructure, know-how, and holistic support from cultivation to delivery.
If the Vertical Farming pilot project by Billa and Vertical Field is successful, further containers will be set up in front of selected Billa Plus stores.