Imagine a grocery store that lets its customers pick fruits and veggies not from a bin, but from hydroponic vertical growing systems at the ends of the aisles; a place where shoppers can select shiitake mushrooms as they sprout in a container and get their herbs from the roof garden.
No, this isn’t some elitist, local-foodie pipedream. It’s the Farmery, a Kickstarter-funded shopping experience designed to bring together greenhouse and grocery. The product of a collaboration between industrial designer and artist Ben Greene and greenhouse manager Tyler Nethers, the Farmery makes good on a goal that many sustainability activists and food experts have been touting for years: closing the gap between the farm and the table (or in this case, the shopping cart).
“The Farmery is designed to improve margins on local food to enable small artisan farmers to move from the fringes of our food system and into the center stage of a retailer,” says Ben Greene, the store and café’s designer. “We accomplish this by giving customers a better understanding of the value of their food by immersing them in an environment where they are surrounded by food growing; where they can see the food’s growth cycle happening as they make their purchase decisions. When customers walk into The Farmery, they will discover that flavor not only resides in food, but also in the environment that surrounds them.”
Greene, who served as a combat engineer during Project Iraqi Freedom, designed the concept as part of his thesis in Industrial Design at North Carolina State University while also working as a marketing manager and industrial designer for a product development consultancy. Nethers has managed greenhouses for clients ranging from the U.S. Army (he took care of their rare and endangered plants collection in Hawaii) to private habitat restoration corporations in Louisiana. He currently manages North Carolina State’s Aquaculture facilities.
Together, the two had the perfect set of skills to create their unique grocery store concept, fueled by the goal of bringing to life “elegant solutions for locally grown food that enhance the strengths of local food and turn its weaknesses into opportunities.” Though the Farmery’s target audience is urban-based food hobbyists, also known as “foodies” — who are estimated to make up 14 percent of the US population, according to a survey by Simmons Research — the concept is built out of stackable, lean-to greenhouses and containers, making it highly portable.
Although the store grows a portion of its produce and farms some of its fish, it will also stock other locally-grown and sourced products; cutting out the middleman of distributors, transporters, and sellers will allow the Farmery to keep their prices comparable or lower than other organic grocery stores, the founders claim on their site.
The Farmery is already test-driving their concept with two production prototypes in Clayton, North Carolina and a mini-store in front of natural cosmetics company Burt’s Bees headquarters in Downtown Durham. With funding from Kickstarter and additional help from the American Tobacco Campus and Burt’s Bees, they’re currently growing watercress, lettuce, and herbs, which cover the entire greenhouse — except the doors and windows, of course.
“The Farmery is a living building,” says Greene.