Pick Your Own Food At This Vertical Farm Built From Shipping Containers

Durham’s Farmery has reinvented the farm many times over, in an attempt to make local, urban food more viable.

The Farmery isn’t a farm exactly. Nor is it just a store. It’s a mix of the two–and a kind of comment on the food system at the same time. Built by Ben Greene, in Durham, North Carolina, it’s currently in its “mini” stage. But, by next year, it should be fully grown (see renderings): a 7,000-square-foot aquaponic powerhouse, where you’ll be able to pick all the fruits, veggies, and herbs you want.


Greene has been working on the idea for five years. He sees it as an attempt to make local food commercially viable, taking out long-distance distribution and heavy agricultural inputs. Putting growing and selling in one place, he’s re-integrating food, taking it back to a time before millions of food miles and endless refrigeration.

“I grew up on an organic farm in western North Carolina. I got into design and art, and I was in the military for a while,” he says. “It’s always bugged me that there wasn’t a successful model for local food. There’s all this attention given to it, but it seemed like all people could come up with was ‘Hey, let’s do raised beds,’ or something.”

Greene conceived the idea at design school when he needed a thesis project. It seemed to him that designers hadn’t really taken on agriculture, unpacking it to see how it might work differently.

The Farmery is made up of stacked shipping containers. On the outside are big bags of straw, for breeding mushrooms. On the inside are reversible growing panels for strawberries, greens, and lettuce. Customers pick produce until the wall is clear, then the panels are turned, making the other side available. When that’s finished, more panels come down from upstairs. And so on.

“I’m kind of like an agricultural DJ. I’m taking all these disparate components and remixing them,” Greene says.

The video above, which colors in more of the Farmery’s story, recently won Smithsonian’s In Motion Video Contest. It was made by a Greene’s friend Russell Hawkins, together with long-time doc-maker Gary Breece.


Asked how the film came about, Greene says it was serendipitous. Hawkins needed to make a movie for his film school project. Breece was interested in covering progressive food ideas in rural areas. The two came together, somehow, and ended up winning a prize, to the surprise of all of them.

“It’s crazy,” he says. “You create an interesting story, and you put enthusiasm behind it, and people want to help you out. It just all happens.”


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.