Which came first the chicken or the—WTF! Why is that egg in a vending machine? Some innovative farmers in Germany have decided to merge the convenience of grocery store chains with the wholesomeness of farmer’s markets by operating refrigerated vending machines that dispense farm fresh goods. The farm, Peter-und-Paul-Hof first started with customers picking up fresh milk from refrigerators on their property but now have expanded into eggs, potatoes, butter, cheese, and sausage in thirteen towns. Check out the news video after the break (my apologies but it’s only available in German and just discusses the milk distribution).

Vending machines in Germany are now dispensing goods fresh from a farm.
Vending machines in Germany are dispensing goods fresh from a farm

We’ve been experiencing some “global economic fluctuations” for the last few years, and it’s raised a lot of questions about the nature of our economy and the free market. This isn’t an economic blog, but this re-examination of the market has a big impact on technology and vice versa. Open source software and hardware, community edited and maintained information sites (wikis), and social networking will reshape international commerce. But the restructuring is likely to extend into traditional businesses as well. Not only can a vending machine take a fingerprint as payment, but now we see them supplying farm goods. The machine removes the middleman (distributors, chain grocery stores) and provides incentives to the supplier and consumer. Essentially, automation has removed a job to the benefit of others. We’re likely to see much more of that as robots and computer programs become more sophisticated.

The vending machine concept evolved rather organically. The Peter-und-Paul-Hof farm first experimented with having customers pick up fresh milk directly from the farm to save on delivering expenses. Slowly, they expanded into distributing to key locations. By partnering with RegioMat, vending machines could be included and the type of goods available were expanded. After just a few years, the Hof farm is supplying thirteen different locations in Germany with a variety of products. Provided they are under some sort of roof, the RegioMat vending machines can function outside all year long, and essentially give consumers 24-hour access to farm fresh goods. A few have even been placed along Swiss hiking trails. Potatoes, cheese, and sausages with fresh eggs? Sounds like a campfire omelet to me.

Admittedly my information here is a little shaky (my German is…basic to say the least) but I can’t find an indication of when Peter-und-Paul-Hof or RegioMat plan to expand the vending machines into further markets. Certainly the potential exists, and similar systems could easily be adapted into locations almost anywhere. Given the rising interest in local and organic farm goods for economic and health reasons, we may see the agricultural vending machines become quite popular. Automated agricultural – I use to think that would mean robotic farmers or gardeners, but obviously I was thinking too narrowly. From farm to consumer there are many opportunities to streamline the delivery of food, increasing efficiency and lowering costs. Who knows, maybe one day you will buy the cow from the vending machine, too.

[photo credit: RegioMat/SpringWise]