Target plans to test vertical farm 'in-store growing environments' in 2017
Soon, an unlikely company will also start using the technology: Target.
"Down the road, it's something where potentially part of our food supply that we have on our shelves is stuff that we've grown ourselves," Casey Carl, Target's chief strategy and innovation officer, tells Business Insider.
"The idea is that by next spring, we'll have in-store growing environments," he says.
During the in-store trials, people could potentially harvest their own produce from the vertical farms, or just watch as staff members pick greens and veggies to stock on the shelves.
Most vertical farms grow leafy greens, but the CoLab researchers are trying to figure out how to cultivate other crops as well.
"Because it's MIT, they have access to some of these seed banks around the world," Shewmaker says, "so we're playing with ancient varietals of different things, like tomatoes that haven't been grown in over a century, different kinds of peppers, things like that, just to see if it's possible."
The largest vertical farm the team has developed, at just under 8,000 square feet, could grow crops for an entire neighborhood or community. That big farm is currently being tested in India, where the team is attempting to grow non-food crops, like cotton, that often use up soil, water, and resources that could otherwise be used to grow food.
The CoLab team has also used the same research to create a self-contained growing box that can educate kids about how food is grown. On September 30, that product, called Poly, is being given to 35 public school classrooms in Boston and Minneapolis. Shewmaker says the team hopes to eventually make a market-ready version that could be sold to textbook or curriculum companies.
"Food is a big part of our current portfolio today at Target - it does $20 billion of business for us," he says. "We need to be able to see more effectively around corners in terms of where is the overall food and agriculture industries going domestically and globally."