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Help-yourself supermarkets: Delete the middlemen and pick your own fresh produce

Norman Byrd's picture

How would you like to go to a supermarket where the food you bought was actually grown in-house? Where you could pick the fresh greens and herbs that you wanted? And do so at a convenient location near you? One entrepreneur thinks he has a solution: The Farmery.

Combining the idea of a greenhouse with an open-air farmer's market, Ben Greene came up with The Farmery, a help-yourself-to-as-much-fresh-produce-as-you-like shopping center. Self-contained, The Farmery would also serve as its own replenishment and restocking source -- because, of course, being a greenhouse/mini-farm, it would also produce the produce, as it were.

Greene, an industrial designer by trade, has worked on perfecting the idea for five years. Modern Farmer reports that he currently has two prototypes in full production where he and his team of dedicated agriculturalists work within climate-controlled, vertically stacked container units that house vertical growing panels employing hydroponics technology to generate baby greens, lettuces, strawberries, dwarf chili peppers, and herbs, all of which customers can select themselves. There are also shiitake, oyster, and seasonal mushroom containers for perusal.

Greene believes that half of the sales from The Farmery will be derived from what he calls the "u-pick" items, noting that the baby greens are a "high value crop." The other half? The store will also be a market for local goods and artisanal products, an added touch to provide a sense of community no matter where the market's location might be, including large cities.

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Jordan Kushins at Modern Farmer points out that growing up on an unsuccessful farm in North Carolina most likely inspired much of Greene's search for a better business model for both the supplier and the consumer. With his system, Greene has eliminated the need for transportation and delivery, guaranteeing freshness of product.

The Farmery is still a work in progress as well. Greene explains: "The wonderful thing about agriculture is you don’t have to try very hard to make function look pretty. I just concentrate on making the growing system as efficient as the space will allow.”

Besides the prototypes, Greene has finally gotten permission from the city of Durham to allow the placement of a mini-market, a 20-foot version of The Farmery in the city's downtown section.

Given that much of the price the consumer pays for any store-bought item is mark-up determined with supply logistics in mind, eliminating the middlemen -- from the transporters to the field workers -- will undoubtedly allow Greene to sell items at a more reduced rate. Guaranteeing freshness, direct sales would reduce inefficiencies and time-dependant variables, allowing for less spoilage and loss. Eliminating pickers and packers and packagers also reduces costs. It is a business model that, if it catches on and gains investors (or perhaps just one dedicated investor), could become extremely popular, especially in its nascency -- with an appeal to the organic and/or boutique crowd. And if workable/sustainable, not to mention cost-productive and cost-effective (and if it weren't, why would Ben Greene be investing so much time and effort in his project?), it might become something akin to a business advent. Imagine: Green-growing produce farms popping up in major cities all over the world, perhaps becoming a specialized and healthy counterbalance to the ubiquitous fast food restaurants.

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Even those same restaurants could become customers and push the idea of fresher, healthier ingredients in their offered fast food menu items.

It would give enhance credence to the claim of being a local grower, that's for certain...

And who better to engineer such a dream than a man named Greene?

(photo credit: Ryan Somma, Creative Commons)