When it comes to culinary culture, North Carolina is best known for their greens, grits, hushpuppies and barbecue; rib-sticking southern comfort food. But one young entrepreneur, Benjamin Greene, is on his way to putting North Carolina on the culinary map for a different reason: a living grocery store.
The Farmery is an innovative urban market and farm combination. It pairs a retail grocery store with an indoor agricultural system. It’s a modern twist on the classic roadside farm stand: instead of a stand, there’s a building made from modular shipping crates and in place of vegetables growing outside in dirt, there are herbs propagating on an indoor vertical hydroponic wall. Unlike the farm stand paradigm, The Farmery will be in urban areas; the retail prototype stores are in the downtown areas of Clayton and Durham, with the latter living in front of the Burt’s Bees headquarters at the American Tabacco Campus.
“The Farmery is the grocery store designed for local food,” says Greene.
Unlike other grocery stores, The Farmery doesn’t rely on a national food distribution system – a system that is responsible for the average American meal traveling about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) to get from farm to plate. Take organic romaine lettuce as an example. The vegetable is packed on a truck in California destined for, say, North Carolina. The truck will drive 2,600 miles (4,180 kilometers), consuming huge quantities of fossil fuels (10 kcal of fossil fuel energy for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food) and leaving a trail of carbon dioxide in its wake. An average of 30% of the lettuce will become unsellable during transit – read: not pretty enough for consumers, or actually rotted and inedible – contributing to the 40% of overall food waste in the US.
On the contrary, The Farmery’s approach eliminates or reduces the middle men, transportation, packing, storage costs and inventory loss. The store will grow a percentage of their produce inventory on site in modular shipping containers, including watercress, lettuce, herbs, strawberries and gourmet mushrooms, using hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants in nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. The Farmery will also raise and harvest fish on-site, including baramundi and striped bass, using aquaponics.
What The Farmery doesn’t grow on-site will be purchased from small local growers, using a fair and flexible system that accommodates for the high variability of supply most farmers face, say a lost tomato crop due to frost (there goes their payment at a big grocery store). Customers seeking unique varieties of standard fruits and vegetables, or exotic types that can’t be found in a standard produce section will love that The Farmery will stock the interesting new crops that farmers are experimenting with, not just the old standbys. Customers will be privy to the absolute freshest produce or fish possible. In fact, they will be able to clip their own lettuce, or pick a quart of strawberries to take home.
Greene credits the organic and local food movement hitting its peak, as well as rapid innovation in agricultural technology, to the potential success of The Farmery. The timing it right and the market is ripe.
“My dad’s organic farm failed when I was eight,” said Greene, now in his twenties. “My dad failed at farming because there wasn’t a market for what he was growing and he couldn’t meet the demands of the ones who wanted what he was growing. If my dad had been given an opportunity like that of The Farmery, and a chance to sell in a store that only sold local food, his story might have turned out differently.”
To learn more about The Farmery visit: http://www.thefarmery.com
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