Q&A with Farmwall

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We all know how f*ed up our food system is, both here in Australia and across the globe.

In Australia alone, we discard up to 20% of the food we purchase. Add up all that food per year and it’s enough to fill 450,000 garbage trucks.  

Or, if you are a numbers person, that’s a total of $8 billion in food wasted each year.

Eek.

Add to this already massive issue of food waste, climate change which is/will be impacting on our crop yields, increasing resource scarcity, and a growing population, and we've got ourselves a big problem of how we are going to sustainably feed our planet in the future.

It's plain to see that the way that we produce, use and consume our food needs to change - and fast.

That’s why we were so excited to catch up today with the team behind Farmall - Geert Hendrix, Serena Lee, and Wilson Lennard - who are working to build cities that sustainably feed our planet. They shared with us their vision, and how they are shaking up Melbourne’s food scene by creating vertical, edible farmwalls right INSIDE some of Melbourne’s top cafes and restaurants.

Now that’s truly farm to table.

Say goodbye to food wastage, excessive packaging, and high food miles, and hello to sustainably produced, fresh, and waste-free food.  

Tilt: So first guys, tell us about your social enterprise Farmwall! How does it all work?

So Farmwall is a socially responsible, urban agriculture company that exists to transform our cities into food producing ecosystems. By designing indoor aquatic vertical farms through an aesthetic and natural lens, we create the opportunity to grow food inside cafes and restaurants, at the fingertips of the chef. We sell subscriptions to custom-built, productive Farmwalls that blend seamlessly into the interior design of a venue. After installation, urban farmers make weekly visits to the Farmwalls to provide new trays of germinated seeds, assist with harvesting and conduct appropriate tests.  We’re also building an urban aquaponic farm that delivers on the chef’s needs for local, sustainable produce while acting as a base for our educational, social and environmental programs.

Tilt: Who's running the show?

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The team consists of Geert Hendrix, Serena Lee, and Wilson Lennard.

Ever since Geert was a child, he has had an incredible passion for natural ecosystems. With a strong background in sales and business development, Geert has navigated Farmwall through this journey—building key partnerships and keeping us close to our intent in everything we do.

Serena Lee is our communicator and storyteller—inspiring an emerging audience through creativity and design.

And finally, we have Wilson Lennard, who has been referred to as a worldwide leading expert in aquaponics. He has extensive knowledge and experience that gives us the credibility and confidence in what we do.

Surrounding this incredible team, we have a range of skilled individuals that cover finance, industrial design, sustainable architecture, brand development, culinary expertise, engineering and software development.

Tilt: What is the problem you are trying to solve?

Chefs and restaurateurs experience an inconsistent and wasteful supply of herbs and microgreens. By growing food in-house inside Farmwalls, we provide year-round, nutrient-rich, high-quality produce at the fingertips of the chef. The hospitality industry also deals with high food miles, unnecessary packaging and food waste lost to perished produce. Growing produce on-site means we can negate the carbon emissions and packaging associated with the delivery. The idea of farm-to-plate in under a minute embraces the ‘cut as you need’ mentality, meaning food waste is minimised as a result.

Tilt: What is the impact you are aiming to have?

We want to transform our cities into food producing ecosystems. To do this, we need to change the way we think about food. We want to enhance our food values through reconnecting people with the origins of what’s on their plate. Imagine watching fresh produce grown right in front of you.

A chef comes out, and cuts produce directly from the source, then garnishes your meal with it.

This is not just ‘dinner and a show’, it's a demonstration of how patrons can live more in line with nature, add value in their diet and are provided with a unique dining experience.

Tilt: How did this idea come to life?

The initial concept was a huge urban farm including a vertical Aquaponic grow walls, a cafe/restaurant, yoga room, coworking space and even a little brewery! The idea was that trout would swim through an indoor river system and chooks would run through tunnels being fed by the leftover food scraps of the patrons. A natural, closed-loop, ecosystem where urbanites could work and play, in cohesion with nature. It was a great vision, but it seemed miles away!

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An achievable starting point was a scaled down version of an indoor farm for restaurants and venues. The thinking behind this was—if we have to start small, how can we make the strongest impact?

We all know that an attitude change is the first step towards reducing our environmental footprint. To enhance food values, patrons need to be reconnected with the origins of what is on their plate. This understanding has great potential to translate into everyday life—one where humans can live more in-line with nature. We believe we can use chefs as mediators and food as the communication tool to spread this message to as many as possible.

Tilt: Can you share with us one big challenge you and your team have had to face starting Farmwall?

The biggest challenge we have had so far has been not getting sidetracked. With so many incredible channels and networks supporting us, we are constantly faced with the fine balancing-act of sticking to our goals whilst maintaining enough flexibility to match emerging trends and opportunities.

Tilt: What has helped you the most along this startup journey?

The startup / social enterprise community has shown us incredible support since day 1. The various incubators, accelerators and coworking collaborations we’ve been so lucky to be apart of have provided ample generosity when it comes to support, connections, networking, advice, and access to a multitude of skills and expertise.

Tilt: What are you guys up to at the moment?

We are actually right in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign, where we are asking people who are passionate about creating a more sustainable future to join us on this journey, and to support us as we launch our first line of Farmwalls!

The crowdfunding campaign has been a whole mix of nerves and excitement. It’s been a really great journey that has allowed us to connect with our audience. We’re almost at $13K which means we’re a little under halfway there, with only 12 days left!

Tilt: What are different ways people can get involved supporting Farmwall and your mission?

The biggest support we need right now is pledging! If you’ve already done so, thank you! Now we need your help to spread the message. Share the campaign with your friends and family and get them to do the same! You can check out the campaign here.

Tilt: What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs working to make their mission and vision a success?

Passion is one thing, but the key is persistence.

You really gotta just go all the way and throw yourself into the deep end. You won’t drown if you stay humble and create a community around you.


Want to see this vision become a reality? Support their crowdfunding campaign here. You can also learn more about Farmwall at www.farmwall.com.au, and stay in touch with them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

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