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Farming and the Local Food Scene: The Farmery—Shipping Container Meets Urban Farm

I had just finished reading a book about vertical farming, when I received an email from a friend forwarding information about The Farmery, a future urban farm constructed out of shipping containers to be located in either downtown Raleigh or Durham, NC. The book about vertical farming was titled pretty much just that—The Vertical Farm, by Dr. Dickson Despommier. While inspiring to think about the practical reasons of growing food in urban areas (reduction in transportation costs distributing food to people, allowing farmland to return to its natural ecosystems, etc), it was not exactly enlightening about where and how to start for the average individual. For someone interested in urban farming, and starting their own urban farm, it seems nearly impossible to start with any of the designs in Despommier’s book due to the presumed exorbitant costs of new construction, hiring a highly-educated staff, retail space, etc. (you can see the designs on his website). It was a fortuitous day to receive an email about The Farmery.

After reading about The Farmery and looking at their designs for growing food in the city, I had to check them out. I was extremely intrigued as it was the first time I’ve heard of an approach to urban farming that varied with either Will Allen’s approach (he does vermicomposting, aquaponics, and micro-green production in downtown Milwaukee), or intensively farming on a small lot space (or the beautifully drawn vertical farm skyscrapers of Despommier’s dreams). Recycling shipping containers into a retail space and growing area for greens and edible mushroom production provides a low-cost method to growing food in a vertical way (although they’re only one story now), and in doing so takes advantage of the small spaces in urban areas.

I contacted Ben Greene, CEO of The Farmery, and he encouraged me to come out and volunteer. The Farmery’s workspace is based in Clayton, NC (about 30 minutes east of Raleigh), and allows ample space for experimenting with shipping containers. When I arrived this past Sunday I was greeted by both Greene and Tyler Nethers, COO of The Farmery. Ben studied Art in undergraduate, and then Industrial Design in graduate school at North Carolina State. Tyler has managed greenhouses all over the world, and is currently managing North Carolina State’s aquaculture systems. They showed me around a bit—I was able to see prototypes one and two (the latest)—and then set to work filling the felt growing walls that adorn the lean-to greenhouses with a mixture of peat moss and worm castings. While I was filling the individual felted pockets with soil, Ben was inoculating oyster mushrooms that are now growing within the storage container itself. Prototype number two allows for mushroom production in the center and herbs, lettuces, and other greens to be grown on the living walls outside the storage container. Surrounded by some of North Carolina’s greatest tobacco land, The Farmery is working hard to design a business that will maximize food production within the confines of a city lot.

Some say The Farmery is before its time, but I think the innovative idea could certainly take off and fill gaps in our food system by offering locally grown food throughout the urban environment.

The Farmery’s Kickstarter campaign was recently funded, and their website has more information about their model, volunteering, and investing.

 

Laura Stephenson is an environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she focused in environmental and community health. She is currently working full-time at a small, organic farm outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina called Maple Spring Gardens. Laura writes the Farming and the Local Food Scene series about her experiences with local farms and farmers around the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

Posted on: October 23, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , , ,

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