Meet the founder of Berlin's indoor farming start-up

Israeli Osnat Michaeli is co-founder and chief brand officer at Infarm, a Berlin start-up that installs grow houses directly at grocery stores and restaurants. 

Osnat Michaeli, co-founder of urban farming startup Infarm, was inspired by produce in her home country of Israel.
Osnat Michaeli, co-founder of urban farming startup Infarm, was inspired by produce in her home country of Israel.Infarm

Berlin- The seedlings and maturing plants in Infarm's grow houses often look like part of the interior design in German grocery stores. The company is an unlikely agricultural start-up in Berlin that's hoping to cut distribution costs and boost freshness by putting the farm inside restaurants and grocery stores around the world. 

Berliner Zeitung: How did you come up with the idea for Infarm?

My co-founders and I are from Israel, which has incredible produce. The salads, tomatoes and other plants are grown very close to the consumers and bursting with flavour. We - Erez, our CEO and my partner, and Guy, our CTO and Erez’s brother- always had a strong love for farming and for great food. We began to explore ways to bring the natural vitality of the local farm into the city, and the freshness and flavour back into our lives. Naturally, we educated ourselves about the deficiencies in our food supply system and understood that by bringing farming back to the people we could tackle lots of the burning questions of our time. One is that by 2050, more than 7b people will be living on the planet: our current food system just isn’t capable of meeting this demand. This is the problem Infarm is trying to solve. We are establishing a form of agriculture that is resilient, sustainable and beneficial to our planet.

Ok, but Berlin isn't exactly an agricultural hub, for Germany or Europe.

After experimenting with vertical farming in our Berlin apartment, where we cultivated our own delicious and nutritious vegetables, we moved our lab into an 1955 Airstream trailer at Prinzessinnengärten, which we refurbished into a mobile vertical farm. If, in the dead of winter in Berlin, we were able to experience the incredible flavour of the fresh basil, mint, lettuce and arugula and many other vegetables we had grown ourselves with hydroponic techniques, we realised we had something that might interest and benefit the community beyond our family. We found our calling to design and build the tools to enable an urban farming revolution.

From an Airstream to a startup?

These were the humble beginnings of Infarm and eventually led us to forming our first retail partnerships in 2016. We then opened our Kräutergarten at wholesaler METRO Cash & Carry in the heart of Berlin. It was our pilot project, our first "farm" where people could actually buy plants, although it was more of a walk-in greenhouse and worked very differently than our network of farms works today.

And where are you now?

In just a few years we built a global network of vertical farms. Our modular farming units can be up to 18 metres tall, can yield the crop-equivalent of 10,000 m2 of farmland, require just 6 weeks to build and can be deployed in any given space. We’ve also built a strong network with partners: we currently work with 30 of the leading retailers in 10 countries. This includes brands like Aldi Süd, Amazon fresh, Edeka, Kaufland and Metro in Germany and many more in other international markets like Whole Foods Markets, Marks & Spencer, or Intermarché.

What's it like having a startup in Berlin?

As we looked for a market in which to incubate and launch Infarm, Berlin’s innovative spirit and openness to new businesses made it very attractive. For us, Berlin offered a startup friendly environment close to key European markets and investors from which to test, build and expand our business. I believe Berlin is one of the cities that most nurtures the growth and development of startups worldwide. Combined with a relatively low cost of living, the city draws incredibly talented and purpose-driven professionals from all over the world. Our business, which requires highly trained experts in plant biology, plant science, IT, design and others, also benefits from the pool of masters and PhD candidates so plentiful in European markets, including here in Berlin.