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Living your values

26 April 2019

Farmwall Web Res014

Serena Lee (above) and Geert Hendrix (beneath) met on Gumtree – the online classified advertisement and community website. They quickly discovered they were a match made in business heaven.

Serena is a trained designer, and was on Gumtree filtering for businesses which aligned with her values and with which she wanted to work: sustainable urban food production, carbon neutral (or better) footprint, products and services that added value to society and looked after the environment.

Geert’s business idea– a concept for urban indoor vertical food production - popped up. She arranged to meet to discuss his ideas.

He was looking for partners to bring his idea to life: designers, architects, sparkies. Serena began doing pro bono design work with him.

According to the business website, “Farmwall combines design and nature through science and technologies to bring food production into living spaces, solving major issues that cause climate change and pollution by reducing food miles, food waste, plastics, pesticide and herbicide usage, water and energy costs, deforestation”.

Within two months, Serena found herself moving from design to being the co-founder of an Ag-Tech business.

In a little less than three years Farmwall has rocketed through the start-up community: impressing the co-working business Nest in Melbourne, where they secured a free desk for a year, to running a successful six-week crowd-funding campaign (securing $30,000 to build three Farmwalls) and meeting and collaborating with property giant Mirvac.

Farmwall’s crowd-funded vertical aquaponic microgreen farms are in three Melbourne venues: Top Paddock, Higher Ground and Worksmith. However, it is the way the business can use under-performing land, such as parking lots and rooftops, transforming them into food-producing spaces, which has gone on to catch big business’s attention. 

The concept of revitalising underutilised space is an area Farmwall is exploring in Sydney. So far, the Farmwall Mirvac collaboration has brought into being an indoor farm space in the EY building at 200 George Street and a much larger venture, Cultivate, with Westpac at 275 Kent Street in the city, which is open to the public.

“The EY building pop-up, in which we built a small indoor hydroponic garden to grow micro-salad leaves, and which was meant to go for six weeks, is still there 12 months later,” says Serena.

“When we began the project, we had a sample group of people each rank their stress and anxiety levels and general happiness before taking part in our curated farming experience. We then had them rank the same feelings after – an hour after – and mood was up 18 percent; stress down 46 percent; return rate 33 percent.”

Those outcomes are encouraging signs for corporate wellbeing programs searching for low-cost interventions to combat workplace stress, anxiety and disengagement in their people.

The success of the Farmwall business is predicated on its business model. It has to engage with broad audiences continually and by engaging with members of those audiences cement and grow its following.

“Just the other day in our ideas meeting, end-of-trip facilities and the benefits of having a Farmwall growing wheatgrass were raised,” says Serena.

“Imagine arriving at work,” she continues, “and being able to neck a juice shot or a smoothie and then head off to the day. How good would that be? Farmwall would provide a living, green space, further adding value to your facilities and producing revenue.”

Having consciously aligned her work to her life values, Ruby wondered if Serena’s personal choices around her own finances had followed a similar path.

“I couldn’t have where my money was being invested out of step with who I am and what I believe, so I switched my super to ethical investments,” she says.

“I also had some savings and was given some advice to invest in stocks and shares in global consumables in different countries. When I went on to think about what these companies were actually producing, I made the decision to sell and move my money into ethical investments - into things I care about and believe in,” finishes Serena.

For more: Cultivate and Farmwall.

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