Model for new local produce-selling shop-greenhouse opens

Jul. 03, 2013 @ 10:46 AM

On the exterior walls of their produce shop that also doubles as a greenhouse, the start-up business The Farmery is growing flowers and herbs in hanging wall planters. Inside, lettuce is growing on vertical beds made with lumber, landscape fabric, soil and bicycle chains. Potatoes, basil and zucchini are for sale in hanging baskets.

The idea behind the shop/greenhouse is that a customer can buy produce in the same place that it’s grown; only it’s not grown on a farm. It’s grown on the walls and in the interior of The Farmery’s shop. Founder Ben Greene wants to see such shops on “every corner in America,” he said.

 “If Walgreens can exist on so many street corners, why can’t an urban farm?” said Greene, as he stood inside The Farmery’s shop prototype on Monday. Made from a trailer, modified shipping crates and other materials, the prototype is parked in Durham at the downtown American Tobacco Campus, the development of shops, offices and restaurants in a former tobacco factory.

The prototype opened to the public Monday, Greene said, and is selling produce from local farms. The focus of the prototype isn’t to grow a lot of food on-site, but to allow customers to simply have the experience of buying food where it’s grown.

It’s parked outside of the offices of Burt’s Bees, the natural personal care products business. Burt’s Bee’s is a division of California-based The Clorox Co. that has its headquarters downtown at American Tobacco.

The business was a sponsor of The Farmery’s project, which is why the prototype is located outside of its offices.

“Over 25 years ago, Burt’s Bees was founded by social entrepreneurs, and we’re delighted to be able to help bring this innovative concept in roving, growing and pick-your-own farmer’s market to downtown Durham,” Paula Alexander, director of sustainable business for Burt’s Bees, said in a news release.

In addition to the sponsorship, Greene also said the launch of the business was also funded using $25,000 raised through a crowdfunding campaign on the website Kickstarter, as well as through investments from other partners. He said he went into credit card debt to help finance its launch.

Greene developed the initial design for the project as part of a master’s in industrial design project at N.C. State University, according to the website http://www.thefarmery.com/index.php/team. He graduated in 2009, and worked as a product designer for a power sports accessories firm. He said he recently quit in order to focus on The Farmery.

The 30-year-old grew up on a farm in Polk County that he said later failed. He said it was started prior to the local organic farm movement. Part of the idea behind The Farmery is to make the delivery of local food more efficient, he said, adding that there’s produce lost in the journey from the farm to the store.

“It spoils,” he said. “It dies as soon as it’s picked.”

The Farmery allows produce to be sold in a location where it’s grown. He said it would have upper level production areas – modeled by production prototypes made from shipping crates that are now in Clayton - as well as in first floor areas in what’s modeled now with the retail prototype parked in Durham.

“It just comes from the roof to the store below,” he said.

According to a news release, The Farmery’s shop/greenhouse will be open to the public from 11 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.