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Move over, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, here comes BrightFarms

August 08, 2012|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • Pedestrians pass Trader Joe's amid new high-rise developments along Vine Street, near Hollywood Boulevard, in Hollywood.
Pedestrians pass Trader Joe's amid new high-rise developments along… (Los Angeles Times )

Trader Joe's, the most innovative grocery store? That's the case Atlantic Media Fellow Alessandra Ram has made, pointing to how the supermarket continues to evolve by listening to its conscientious shoppers. “Trader Joe's has graciously succumbed to requests to alter its ‘farming’ and sustainability practices, and has pledged to dedicate itself to sustainable alternatives, after a vocal component of its consumer population demanded it do so,” writes Ram, continuing: “Their decision to sign the Fair Food Agreement signals an awareness to better the lives of workers and consumers alike.”

Whole Foods deserves credit too, for more than just supporting local farmers, organic produce and health generally but for turning it into a lifestyle that’s easy to practice -- well, for those who can afford it. As Tom Roston writes in an amusing rant on Food Republic, Whole Foods has turned its devotees into submissives.

"Say all you want about the Starbucks culture we live in. At least we can feel comfortable hating Starbucks. But, Whole Foods? With its aisles so wide and endless organic options and inoffensive green logo and helpful but not unctuous employees. The fact that I spend so much money there and that it never bothers me, strikes me as beyond nonsensical. It’s like a spell has been cast that dismisses the impulse to criticize the notion that maybe $7.99 for a quart of organic blueberries is too much to pay. Or, somehow, it’s in my interest to spend more than six dollars on a small box of cereal. 

It’s twisted, like I’m the M in an SM relationship, when I am sincerely appreciative for the 15 cents deducted from my $123 receipt when I dutifully bring my bag to the store."

But at Trader Joe’s, you get a market that’s sensitive to the politics of the plate while also keeping its prices low. Argues Ram: “This shift in thinking epitomizes the global trend in matching quality with affordability for the masses.”

Two new concepts, however, threaten to steal Trader Joe’s crown.

In London, there’s a laboratory of sorts called FARM:shop that aims to bring a more sustainable form of agriculture closer to where people actually live. The founders hope the concept will give people a closer connection to their food. More than that, though, it would cut down on the energy spent refrigerating and transporting food. “While few would contest the rehabilitative social value of projects like FARM:shop, its founders argue it could be the start of something much more: A radical new approach to ecologically sustainable agriculture,” write George Webster and Leo Dawson on CNN about the “farm in a shop,” which produces more than just lettuce.  

Closer to home, we have BrightFarms, which wants to build hydroponic greenhouses on supermarket rooftops to house multi-acre farms that would produce tomatoes, lettuce and herbs. Founder Paul Lightfoot’s “innovative arrangement,” writes Fast Company’s Jane Black, “allows grocery stores to pay nothing to build the farms. Instead, they sign a 10-year contract to purchase their lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs from BrightFarms, with a guarantee that prices will never exceed average inflation. According to BrightFarms's projections, if future price increases mimic historical patterns, its produce will cost a fraction of market rate by 2030. In an industry where margins average just 1% to 2% per year, those savings would have a significant impact on grocers' profits.”

It sounds like a win-win-win for the environment, grocers and consumers. In fact, it’s just the sort of innovation that the farm bill should support.


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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier. Follow Opinion L.A. on Twitter and Facebook.

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