From the kitchen to the planet Mars, indoor farming is still finding its way

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Paris (AFP) – From a corner kitchen to stretches of sand on the planet Mars, are we close to planting plants in artificial environments controlled by technology? Some start-ups believe in it, but are still struggling to find the economic model that will make them viable on a large scale.

“In 5 to 10 years, most homes will have indoor vegetable gardens”, the small cupboards where plants grow in a fully controlled environment, it said this week on the VivaTech show on Paris Thibaut Pradier, the founder of the beginning. – up to “La Grangette”.

When the buyer is equipped with a vegetable garden, this company plans to give them refills in the form of a capsule of coconut fiber, containing a seed with the desired plant, for a target price of 1.5 euros. .

Purchasing the seed gives access to an application that indicates how to set up the indoor vegetable garden in an appropriate way – dose of nutrients, moisture, light … – and makes it possible to follow the growth of page.

Proof that the market is buoyant, household furniture manufacturer LG “is already producing indoor vegetable gardens with great success in South Korea and Miele will only launch in Germany in particular”, suggests Mr. . Pradier.

For him, this agriculture in a fully controlled environment is really part of the equation to succeed in feeding the planet at an acceptable environmental cost.

Certainly “an indoor vegetable garden will eat the equivalent of a refrigerator” but its salad’s carbon footprint would be even better “because it doesn’t have to be carried and delivered”, he says.

Interstellar Lab founder Barbara Belvisi, who likes to grow plants in the harshest environments, is on the same page.

“Traditional agriculture alone cannot feed 9 billion people,” he said.

“A closed and controlled environment makes it possible to optimize energy consumption” and can also make it possible to “shift agriculture” by avoiding the import from distant countries of products that are not can be planted on the site.

The Interstellar Lab, which has raised 7 million euros and employs approximately 30 people, plans to deliver approximately 20 of its “Biopods” by the end of 2023, 55 square meters of cultivation “domes”, which grow the plants in a nutrient mist in aeroponics.

These modules, which are completely unaffected by their environment, illustrate the true ambition of the Interstellar Lab on Earth: culture in space – on a space station for example – or on another planet.

“The trial continues”

Right now, Biopods are intended for pharmaceutical and cosmetic laboratories or any other industry looking for specific plants with high added value, Barbara Belvisi explains.

“At first, it wasn’t for food, except for very specific plants like vanilla.”

A typical example for him is vetiver, a root used in perfume that grows very well, and does not damage the soil, in aeroponics.

An indoor vegetable garden system developed by start-up “La Grangette” presented at the VivaTech show, June 17, 2022 in Paris Eric PIERMONT AFP

Because for indoor farming, the road to commercial possibility is long, as proved by the bankruptcy of Agricool.

The promising French start-up, which raised 35 million euros in 2018, wants to plant salads or strawberries in urban containers equipped with computers, as close as possible to the consumer.

Despite enthusiasm for its concept, it did not succeed in finding a viable economic model, explains its co-founder Guillaume Fourdinier.

“The consumer will agree to pay approximately 20% more“ for this type of local product, ”but it is not enough to make R&D costs profitable and it remains higher than those. price of traditional ”competitors, he regrets. he.

Agricool has been able to be profitable with some plants, such as aromatic herbs, but has not succeeded with strawberries or lettuce, whose production costs are higher.

Her diagnosis agrees with that of Barbara Belvisi: in the short term, this type of culture can only survive for products with high added value.

But “in the long run, everything will change with climate change” and urban farms, in domes or containers, could dominate if temperatures prevent outdoor cultivation, in southern countries in particular.

“To meet the major challenges that await us in food, we need to continue to try and invest heavily in parallel with the transformation of traditional farms”, he maintains.

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