Your typical grocery shopper probably doesn’t know all that much about the fruits and vegetables that stock the produce displays at their local store — at least in terms of what grows where, when, and what it looks like in the field.

I thought I knew a lot about fruit and vegetable growing when I joined The Packer 10 years ago. I grew up with a big backyard garden, and my family and I grew kale and fingerling potatoes before either of them had achieved “it vegetable” status. 

But I also thought avocados were vegetables and that pineapples grew on trees. Oops.

It’s funny — or exasperating — how uninformed shoppers can be when it comes to the produce they buy. But can we really blame them? So many of us are so far removed from the growing and harvesting process, simply by geography, that we rarely (if ever) have the chance to see it for ourselves.

But I have an idea about that.

BrightFarms, a New York-based greenhouse company, recently started a retail consumer education program in which shoppers can take a tour of its greenhouse operation via virtual reality headset and then sample some of the company’s leafy greens. BrightFarms sent The Packer’s retail editor Ashley Nickle a headset so she could take the tour herself, and I took it for a spin, too.

I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, as I tend to be a tech curmudgeon, but the virtual reality, which enabled a 360-degree view of the greenhouse, really gave a three-dimensional feel to the tour that a regular video couldn’t. 

As Ashley and I traded thoughts on the initiative, she said “I think it would be cool to have these in the produce department for other commodities, too, just to see how they’re grown.” 

And then I thought, what if there was a way to incorporate two or three permanent virtual reality devices into the produce department? The featured footage could change once a month or every couple of months to reflect aspects of the produce year — what’s being planted, what’s growing where, what’s being harvested, what growers do with the land after the harvest is complete. 

Even a two-minute virtual tour could give shoppers valuable insight into how fruits and vegetables get from the field into their shopping carts. 

And the more consumers know about how their produce is grown, the more likely they are to trust the men and women who work so hard to ensure a safe, year-round supply of so many fruits and vegetables. That’s a win for everybody.

Amelia Freidline is The Packer’s copy chief and designer. E-mail her at [email protected].


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