WITH much of Victoria heading back into lockdown, and food charities under pressure to meet huge demand from people in need, many Victorians are taking the initiative to establish productive food growing at home.
Hugh Hendry, a 93-year-old gardener from Korumburra, is one such gardener who has installed an innovative, water efficient pop-up farm, comprising of five advanced raised Foodcube wicking beds, designed and manufactured in Melbourne by urban farming company Biofilta.
Each food-growing module is one square metre in size and can produce 25 kilograms of fresh produce per annum.
With the garden up and running, Hugh is well on his way to producing over 125 kilograms of fresh vegetables and herbs per annum, worth more than $1000 of fresh food a year.
With this much abundant produce, there is a strong likelihood he will be giving fresh food away to neighbours and friends.
“It’s been great. We only set it up eight weeks ago and we’re already getting fresh produce out of it. We’ve already had bok choi and radishes and we expect to have some celery ready soon,” said Mr Hendry.
“You can’t beat homegrown vegies, and it certainly helps the budget.”
Hugh gives all the credit for the establishment of the raised vegie garden to his family, especially son Tad.
“Tad set it up but he talked to the rest of the family and they all chipped in to pay for it. The Foodcube grower boxes were a gift from the family.
“I suspect ulterior motives though,” says Hugh with a grin.
“I reckon they think if they keep me happy with my garden, they won’t have to look after me at their place, but really, I appreciate greatly what they have done.
“I’m blessed to have a very supportive and loving family.”
Hugh is a very active 93-year-old, living at home with his partner Jenny, and who has a strong interest in sustainability and doing his bit for the environment and the community.
He installed the pop-up farm in half-a-day with the help of Tad and is now enjoying the benefits of watching food grow.
The raised beds allow him to grow food, exercise, and tend the garden without having to bend his back. Each Foodcube holds 110 litres of water in the base, allowing the garden to be watered about once a week in summer and once a month during winter. The bottom watering design means that the garden is very low maintenance, with low weeding requirements, and has trellising allowing Hugh to grow vertical plants such as snow peas and tomatoes.
Having fresh food at arm’s length means that Hugh and his household is more self-reliant and reduces his need to go to the supermarket. He can also create compost at home and reuse organics and nutrients back into the garden to produce more food and reduce waste to landfill.
It’s been a big week for Hugh, a war years’ veteran, who served in the Australian Airforce as a chef on numerous bases around Australia, with the 75th anniversary of the end of the war last Saturday.
“I was 18 when I joined up and 19 at the end of the war. We got ready to relieve the Australians in the islands several times, but being close to the end of the war, it didn’t happen.
“I cooked for the sergeants’ mess in Port Pirie and that’s where I was at the end of the war. I didn’t usually drink so with all the free beer around I got a bit sick and had to sleep it off.”
But, despite a fall recently, he’s still a very active nonagenarian and the raised garden fits right into his plan.
The most famous former manager of Coal Creek Heritage Village, he put a major focus on the gardens and tree planting, establishing thousands of trees on the site in Korumburra, and he still delights in making and watching things grow.
Hugh’s Foodcube urban farm is manufactured by Melbourne based urban farming company Biofilta, who has developed the home farming system to enable people to build instant productive urban farms in backyards, carparks, workplaces, rooftops and schools, to assist communities to produce large volumes of fresh food in small city spaces.
In the past three months, Biofilta has experienced a significant spike in interest in the Foodcube from Australian households interested in being able to rapidly produce super-local food in a challenging environment. Foodcube farms have been deployed to urban farmers, schools, workplaces, and also food vulnerable and water stressed communities such as indigenous communities in Australia and the Pacific Islands who are having difficulties growing and accessing fresh produce.
There are hundreds of Biofilta Foodcube urban farms now in action across Victoria, producing food such as tomatoes, corn, zucchini, spinach, silverbeet, herbs, spring onions, bok choi, beetroot, spinach, pumpkin and a wide range of herbs.
Hugh’s son Tad is delighted with how the project turned out.
“We are really happy to have installed this water-efficient farm for dad. He is a keen gardener and loves sustainable living, and having this garden raised off the ground takes out the back bending,” said Tad.
“It has trellising for vertical plants like tomatoes and beans, and hoops for netting to keep pests off. We know he loves gardening and this new addition to his backyard will see him likely to be growing more fresh food than he can use in his household so he will be very popular with our family this spring and summer.
“I live at the Cape sustainable estate at Cape Paterson and many of the homes here are using this urban farming system to grow a lot of food as well.”
Biofilta Director Brendan Condon has taken a personal interest in Hugh’s new farm.
“We are thrilled to see our system delivering benefits to Victorians who need better access to fresh vegetables, particularly in times of COVID restrictions,” said Brendan.
“It makes food growing easy for any gardener as Hugh is demonstrating in his thriving urban farm in Korumburra. The pop-up farm helps people like Hugh to stay active and gardening and this is good for mental health as well.
We are watching a big increase in demand for our urban farms with people looking to have fresh produce within arm’s length in their backyards. It is a positive sustainable shift that is likely to be permanent beyond COVID. Growing food in small spaces in our cities and towns has many benefits – nutrition, exercise, mental health, community building and self-reliance.”
Since hitting the market some years ago, the Biofilta Foodcube system has really hit a popular chord, with Brendan acknowledging the firm had sold upwards of double the systems they expected to sell in the past six to eight months, as people look to supplement their food at home.
“With COVID increasing demand on food charities, we see the potential for retirees and schools everywhere to install our pop up farms and grow a surplus of fresh food to feed themselves as well as give their surplus to those in need,” said Brendan.
“Australia hasn’t even scratched the surface of how much food we could be growing in our towns and cities. We could also be redirecting the millions of tonnes of organic waste currently going to landfill back into food production at household level and helping to create a circular economy, food secure society.”
About Biofilta’s Foodcube
* Biofilta designs and manufactures water and space efficient, modular urban gardens, which can be used to grow large volumes of food in a small space.
* Manufactured locally in South East Melbourne from UV stabilised, long life, durable, food grade waste stream plastic that is diverted away from landfill, reducing Australia’s plastic waste problem.
* Monitoring of a range of existing farms shows that each unit can grow 25kg of vegetables per annum from 1 sq meter of growing space.
* The gardens are raised and ergonomic for ease of use by people of all ages.
* The system uses 60% less water than a standard unsealed garden bed.
* Proven, long lasting product that is designed for harsh conditions.
* Designed for rapid assembly, Biofilta Foodcubes can be joined together, allowing the creation of instant very large modular farms to be assembled by small teams within days, and to be creating fresh produce within weeks and capable of creating tonnes of fresh produce.
* Each Foodcube module storing a large reservoir of 110 litres of stored water, held in the base of the unit. The advanced wicking bed system uses capillary action to keep plants watered, making the system highly water efficient and low maintenance, storing enough water to keep the garden hydrated, reducing watering to once a week in warmer months and even less in cooler months.
* Foodcubes are low maintenance, with clever design retaining water at the base and away from surface weeds, reducing weed growth compared to conventional soil-based gardens.
* Designed to attach netting and lattices that keep pests away from valuable produce, as well as grow vertical crops such as tomatoes and vines.
* Able to intercept composted organics to produce food, diverting some of the 4.5 million tonnes of food waste produced in Australia from ending up in landfill.
Brendan Condon, who is a director of the Melbourne-based urban farming company Biofilta, is also the prime mover in the energy-efficient housing project, The Cape, at Cape Paterson, soon moving into Stage Four. Already 108 of the 230 sites have been sold, many of them hosting leading-edge, efficient homes, generating a surplus on their energy bills.