January 5, 2013 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
When industrial designer Ben Green and grower Tyler Nevers saw a need for suppling urban food-loving folks with locally grown produce at reasonable prices, they devised a plan and successfully raised $25,000 on Kickstarter for a small scale urban “artisan” farm and market that they hope one day will become as common as the corner store.
Their Raleigh, North Carolina prototype, The Farmery, is an urban variation of a rural farm market: an all-in-one neighborhood urban food farm and retail farmer’s market that consolidates the food system by growing and selling the food all under one roof–including the sides and floor.
Constructed of stacked low-cost shipping containers and attached modular lean-to greenhouses, on the exterior facades of the containers living walls utilize a proprietary hydroponic vertical growing system to grow produce that The Farmery sells in its pick-your-own market.
The plan includes three containers dedicated to cultivating gourmet mushrooms, where water reservoirs line the walls to soak the blocks in between the fruiting. Oyster mushrooms grow in a ground-level container, Shiitake in one of two upper level containers, another with a rotating variety of seasonal mushrooms throughout the year including maitake, black poplar, king oyster.
Pick it Yourself Vertical Farm
Growing vertically saves space and insulates the containers, eliminating the need to cover them. In the central and lean-to greenhouses, the lightweight, modular growing panels are easily moved and produce is harvested through the container openings. The farmers grow seedlings and microgreens on the walls of the lean-to greenhouses in stacked trays.
Solar water heaters with radiant heat pex tubing along the container outside walls provide heating near the root zone of the plants. The shipping containers are air conditioned, insulated by a ceramic coating on the containers, closed cell foam, and the growing system itself. Evaporative coolers, shade cloths and misting fans provide cooling in the greenhouses.
“Curated Farm Boutique”
In a climate controlled “food boutique” container, The Farmery will sell a ”curated” selection of locally grown crops from artisanal farmers.
DIY Home Vertical Farm
If you aren’t in the Raleigh area, you can purchase the just-introduced Farm Buddy, The Farmery’s version of felt panel vertical living wall. Farm Buddy uses a peat moss sponge growing substrate known for high water retention, contains a built-in reservoir, and top flaps which form a backsplash to catch water runoff.
Like other living wall panels on the market, Farm Buddy is modular so one can combine several to create a large green wall to grow a variety of food, ornamentals, or both.
The Future: Neighborhood Urban Farm Stores
The Farmery team hopes to raise the value of produce through an educational and sensory retail experience that also reduces cost by consolidating the entire food distribution system into a single integrated site.
Green and Nevers envision the neighborhood urban farm becoming as common as the corner store or bodega. The Farmery will be able to offer mushrooms, fish, greens and herbs for prices that meet or beat organic supermarket prices–all the while reestablishing relationships between urban consumers and their food by educating them about how their food is produced.