Urban farming is changing the way we view food. And it’s all thanks to ag tech startups like Farmwall. For a deep dive into this transformative industry, we chatted to Farmwall founder Geert Hendrix. Discover his personal story – and how urban farming is about more than growing food.
Goodsmiths: What is a Farmwall?
GH: Picture a small-scale, edible and vertical garden that grows microgreens and herbs. That’s a Farmwall.
It works like a natural ecosystem. We have fish at the bottom, which create a colourless gas called ammonia. The good bacteria in the system then transforms this gas into nitrates. This is what is called an aquaponics system.
Every Farmwall has a gut made of clay balls. This keeps all the good bacteria in balance, letting us grow the food naturally – without enclosing or sterilising it.
And for every litre of water, there’s 500ml of biofiltration which makes our Farmwalls extremely resilient for growing food.
Goodsmiths: How did Farmwall come to be?
GH: I felt frustrated with what I wasn’t doing. I was always doing more, more, more with less, less, less – and not really contributing to something bigger than myself.
I realised I was already 32, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. If I didn’t make a change, I knew I’d regret it when I turned 60.
So I decided then and there to only do what I love. I quit my job and never looked for another.
It took about six months to follow my passions and find the clarity I needed to start Farmwall.
Goodsmiths: No one, ever, has had a smooth ride starting a new business. What keeps you going?
GH: It’s a combination of my desire to see social and environmental change, plus a willingness to do whatever I can to create a better world.
I also have a personal interest in fish, growing food, interior design, business, finding solutions and networking.
Goodsmiths: How does Farmwall help in the big picture?
GH: Farmwall is a closed loop, zero-waste food system. Although it’s on a small-scale, Farmwall encourages you to consider how this can be done on a larger level.
Once you see food grow before your very eyes with Farmwall, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation of growing produce. This may make you consider where your food is coming from and how it’s grown.
You might be more likely to support your local farmer and pay a higher price, which makes it more affordable for them to grow better food. Essentially, Farmwall is helping people understand where our food comes from, how to grow our own food, and what healthy food really is.
By changing people’s values and minds on small decisions, we can collectively make a big impact.
Goodsmiths: What else makes Farmwall special?
GH: One thing we’re really passionate about is maximising space. That’s why we set up our systems in under utilised corporate spaces. For example, we moved one into an unused carpark under an office building in the Sydney CBD. There, the staff can come and experience the wellbeing benefits of being surrounded by plants for themselves.
Our packaging and production are also zero-waste. Plus, we eliminate food miles when we deliver your farm straight to the doors of your café, office, workplace or school.
Goodsmiths: How would you like to see traditional agriculture change?
GH: I think we need a collective shift in mindset and industry actions towards more sustainable farming practices in the future. We know we can’t do this without the world’s farmers: Change won’t happen overnight, it will take a community effort to achieve a stronger focus on building healthy soils.
Lots of research is being done, and technology will hopefully make it more efficient. We’re heading in the right direction and this leaves me feeling hopeful and inspired.
Goodsmiths: Your customers can’t buy Farmwalls. They rent them instead. Why have you chosen this model?
GH: It’s about sustainability. Our Farmwalls are designed to be durable and provide food for the long-run.
We could make our Farmwalls cheap and ship them all over, but that would create a lot of waste. People are more interested in learning about and accessing fresh food – rather than owning it.
It also makes the discussion of sustainable agriculture a communal one. By bringing a Farmwall into your café, workplace, office or school, you can start vital conversations about farming between more people than just those under your roof.
Goodsmiths: Do you think things are changing in startups today? And who do you admire?
GH: The major difference between the traditional system and the startup space is that we no longer measure success strictly in financial gains – but in the changes made.
I’m a big advocate of Reground and what they’re doing in the waste space. There’s also a lot of emphasis on environmental education and composting.
Goodsmiths: What are you most proud of at Farmwall?
GH: The team. They’ve been amazing in staying engaged through all the challenges we face.
Partnering with these high-tier businesses makes me believe we can create a major change, thanks to the scale of their networks and the possibilities within them.
Goodsmiths: How can people get involved with Farmwall?
GH: There are lots of resources available to learn more about where food comes from. Many schools are great advocates for this.
If you have kids, it may be worth checking in with your childrens’ school to see what they’re learning about sustainable and healthy foods.
Otherwise, asking your boss about getting at Farmwall in your workplace could be another option.
Goodsmiths: Any exciting projects on the horizon?
GH: We’re most excited about getting more and more Farmwalls into the market!
You’ll see them popping up in lots of venues and office buildings over the next couple of months. We’re now at the point of expanding the company rather than building and proving ourselves, which is really rewarding!
Love Farmwall’s mission? Learn more about the Farmwall revolution today.
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