How Everett’s indoor farm grows: What Infarm is doing

Infarm’s produce kiosk inside the QFC grocery at 22833 Bothell-Everett Highway. Since the product is still alive, it won’t wilt, which should reduce food waste at stores.

Infarm’s produce kiosk inside the QFC grocery at 22833 Bothell-Everett Highway. Since the product is still alive, it won’t wilt, which should reduce food waste at stores.
Rick Sinnett

EVERETT — A high-tech approach to vertical farming is happening in Everett’s backyard and is feeding Everett’s schoolchildren.
The company Infarm is showing proof of concept that year-round sustainable produce can be delivered quickly while creating fewer carbon emissions when donating vegetables to Everett schools from its Delta neighborhood location.
The food is natural but is all being grown on shelves with artificial light in a tightly controlled 23874.35 square foot warehouse. Steve Martin, Infarm’s director of operations for North America, explained that more than 75 sensors are placed in their large-scale next-generation farming units. These sensors gather more than 50,000 points of data from each plant and send it to a central database.
The Dutch-owned enterprise, founded in 2013 in Berlin, Germany, says that it can deliver fresher produce using 95% less water, no chemical pesticides and faster delivery with a small carbon footprint. Further, the company can do this year-round and deliberately sets up indoor vertical farming around urban centers, such as how Everett is near Seattle, and a future site near Baltimore, Maryland.
Discussing the advantages of vertical farming, Linda Neunzig, Snohomish County’s Conservation and Natural Resources Agriculture Coordinator, said by email the benefit is increased local food production and security without using ag land.
The foundation of Infarm’s farming process is its technology connecting all farms to a central computer. The data sends environmental, biological and machine information to a central system.
Infarm’s nearly 30-employee grow center can produce over 1 million plants a year.
The company began donating herbs and vegetables to Everett Public Schools’ food menus this February. The herbs and vegetables are three types of lettuce: Romaine, Caravel and Butter lettuce, and herbs such as Cilantro, Italian Parsley, Italian Basil, Thai Basil and Chive.
The director of the school district’s food services department, Adam Pazder, explained the challenges of procuring fresh food to a Tribune reporter. It comes down to logistics and the time of year.
“Seasonality is the largest barrier. In Washington, our best produce is grown when students are out of school in the summer months. We have the most incredible stone fruit and berries you’ve ever tasted – in July and August,” Pazder wrote by email.
Distribution is the other challenge Pazder faces in procuring fresh food; most local farmers don’t have a means of self-distribution. Also, a farm must meet a minimum delivery for each school.
Infarm’s donations to the school have been paused until school is back in session; currently, food is being sent to food banks and charities in the area.
Infarm also sells at certain QFC grocery stores.
The vegetables harvested locally during the winter and spring seasons are “hearty and bitter,” such as kale, Brussels sprouts and squashes, Pazder said.
“We have a wonderful winter crop of cold-stored apples and potatoes, but it’s hard to find really fresh produce grown locally from November through April. Infarm is constantly growing and harvesting fresh produce 365 days per year.”