Farmwall develops agricultural technologies and educational resources to empower city residents and workers to grow their own food.
They work with corporates, schools, restaurants and households to implement closed-loop food production systems.
Farmwalls are present in seven skyscrapers across Melbourne.
In today’s fast-paced and convenience-driven lifestyle, food and how it came onto our plates is often treated as an afterthought. Where our food was made, where the raw materials were sourced from and what processes were involved in that food reaching our plate become questions rarely asked. But as our urban population grows, so does the demand for food in these cities. With issues such as climate change and global supply chain disruptions threatening our ability to meet this demand, the need to build a more robust food system that can provide for our increasing population without degrading nature and producing unnecessary emissions is clear.
One such social enterprise, called Farmwall, is changing the way we look at food in our cities by empowering people in urban areas to grow their own food inside their own buildings and improving self-sufficiency. By using a combination of education and agricultural technologies (AgTech), coupled with circular principles at the core, Farmwall is helping to build back the connection between humans and food.
Geert Hendrix, CEO and Managing Director of Farmwall, takes us through the importance of connecting with our food and how the organisation aims to develop a closed-loop and regenerative food future.
"Farmwall work with corporates, schools, restaurants and households to implement closed-loop food production systems in their day-to-day lives and environments for the purpose of creating self-sufficiency, food security and in the process, the overall well-being and building of a community.”
“Unlike other horticultural systems that can often be sterile, removing a certain aspect of biodiversity in the process, we ensure that our Farmwalls are biodiverse, incorporating a variety of species in the ecosystem. This includes snails, fish, algae eaters, insect frass, carnivorous plants for pest management, microorganisms, underwater and above water aquatic plants, microgreens, leafy greens and vegetables that are grown in the system.”
“We use aquaponics to develop a closed-loop food system that can nourish our cities and be regenerative in nature.”
“Farmwall has a unique opportunity to build a business from scratch with a vision of a circular future. Waste reduction and complete avoidance is very important to us. We want to make products that are durable and are made to last.”
“Circularity for us means no ownership. Therefore, our subscription-based model is extremely crucial to ensure that we are constantly reusing materials without creating a lot of waste, as we sell a service rather than any product. Every drop of water and all materials such as steel, glass etc gets reused in the process. To keep delivering our services we have to maintain long-term relationships with our customers, and for this, we have to maintain ownership of the products ourselves and carry their responsibility. That piece of responsibility from a manufacturer or service provider’s perspective is vital to continue doing better.”
“The world has largely been ignoring issues in our food system such as over fertilisation, depleted soils, topsoils washing away, monocropping and loss of biodiversity. This has made the system fragile and heavily dependent on pesticides and chemicals. We have unlearned the language of food. The industrial revolution and decades of depending on big companies to supply us with our food have completely detached us from the way food grows.”
It’s the same as when you build a card house and remove the cards from the bottom- everything collapses. The moment any disruption happens to our food system (like Covid-19) we lose control of one of our fundamental needs, and no one knows where to acquire their food if our supermarkets run out. Unfortunately, climate change is going to create bigger disruptions like droughts, heat waves and floods and food can quickly become our biggest threat.
“The good news is that all the knowledge and technology we need to solve our food issues already exists. But we can’t demand a regenerative system without rolling up our sleeves and taking responsibility for our own actions. The broken food system is everyone’s problem.”
“We believe in active facilitation and engagement. We cannot expect to place a new solution within a system hoping that people would know how to use it. We want to be part of the ecosystem that we develop and do this by facilitating workshops and empowering our customers to grow their own food."
“For example, we conduct incursions and excursions for schools and develop lesson plans for students and are in the process of building the structure for these lesson plans so that it fits well with the schedules of teachers and schools. With corporates, this is a way for employees to relax and partake in team-building activities involving regularly learning about growing microgreens and vegetables in their buildings.”
“Our start-up began on a mission to make a difference through closed-loop food systems. Over the years, we have been a part of four different accelerator programs. Initially, we started out as a large urban farm and a restaurant that was self-sufficient by growing its own food through vertical farming. However, being in an agile environment we had to constantly evolve and pivot towards where we saw most value and impact.”
“We had to gather a team consisting of various skillsets like communications, storytelling, biological sciences, industrial design, business development and engineers to make Farmwall happen. We also considered the circular economy as an essential skill to be willing to do the hard work to make more inclusive and regenerative food systems.”
“The business model canvas was a great tool for us to look out for key partnerships and stakeholders. Developers like MIRVAC (who are one of our major stakeholders), schools, urban farming organisations, local community organisations, our interns and volunteers have all been integral in this journey moving forward.”
“When you are doing something new that hasn’t been done before, everything is a barrier. Getting the idea across to our customers and communicating our core values is always a challenge. But we have found that storytelling and connecting with our customers by taking them on a journey of what food systems involve has been very helpful. Nevertheless, this is also a huge opportunity for us as we have the chance to be the first of our kind in the market to make a difference and be a shifter. At this point, we are still in a stage before being completely scalable. To scale into larger systems, our buildings and cities will also require more innovation in urban design to support the integration and assimilation of our Farmwalls.”
“Farmwall’s day-to-day activities revolve around growing microgreens via aquaponics. Microgreens are a great way to secure our food system and promote healthier lifestyles for people. As they are so small, they use less water than what is usually required to bring a plant to maturity. Additionally, the only fertiliser required is produced by the fish – helping us steer away from fossil fuel-based fertilisers used in industrial-scale vegetable production.”
"Our biggest achievement is when we see people and children inspired and having their paradigm shifted. Being able to communicate the importance of food security and a closed-loop regenerative city to our customers is what we look forward to the most.”
“We aim to be in every building, school and household in the future and will also be raising a seed funding round in March 2023.”
“Start thinking about your food supply and how you can integrate yourself back into the food system, even through small acts of education, being involved in the community and showing interest in the growing process. Take action in a way that’s not only good for the world, but also for yourself- for your own health, well-being and safety."
"Join us and become part of a city that feeds our planet - https://farmwall.com/"