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Combatting the health issues of city living

01 April 2019

Cultivate 3 Hydroponic System

By 2055, Sydney’s population is projected to reach eight million people. At present, one in four Sydney dwellings is categorised as high density, making it the densest of Australia’s cities. On a global scale, Sydney is a baby: Hong Kong has more than seven million people; Beijing more than 21 million; London more than eight million, and the list goes on.

If you live and work in the city, you’ll know you miss nature. However, did you know that life in densely populated cities is accompanied by various adverse health conditions, such as high-fat diets, sedentary lifestyles, increased levels of social and psychological stress and environmental pollutants. And, according to health and behavioural experts, working and living in dense urban environments makes us susceptible to Nature Deficit Disorder, the consequences of which are increased rates of depression, obesity, heart disease, diabetes.

So, how do we counteract the adverse effects of modern life?

Gardening.

Engagement with gardening is increasingly recognized as a cost-effective health intervention.

Green walls are a more common city site – Sydney’s Central Park on Broadway is one example. From there, the step to vertical strip farms is not a big one and there are already small scale aquaponics-based food farms popping up in our cities.

In various studies, including those done by corporates, which have included traditional community plot gardens as part of their corporate wellness program offering, the personal health benefits for those who garden are legendary.

Benefits include reduced stress and increased energy, physical activity, and consumption of fresh produce. (Gardening with your colleagues, as Farmwall co-founder Serena Lee (below) says, also breaks down work silos and hierarchical barriers to idea exchange.)

Serena Lee Small

Urban gardens (pictured above) are where the AgTech company Farmwall and the property giant Mirvac have come together to create a left-of-field match made in gardening heaven.

Looking to future proof its business and contemplating driverless cars and the death of the carpark, Mirvac has been experimenting with how to make better use of its assets - car parks, rooftops, basements, community areas, the under-utilised spaces in its properties.

Farmwall is an AgTech, urban farming start-up from Melbourne.

“Farmwall designs and implements technology enhanced, food producing solutions in urban spaces, with the goal of enhancing the built environment with positive social and environmental outcomes,” says co-founder Serena Lee. 

“We began in hospitality in cafés in Melbourne,” she continues, “building and installing indoor vertical farms using aquaponics to grow microgreens and other produce. The systems provide café owners with salad stuffs in a beautifully designed growing garden. It also eliminates plastic packaging, transport costs and waste.”

Farmwall then began designing urban farming solutions in other under-utilised spaces, and in 2018, Mirvac approached the start-up to create a pop-up urban farm, “Cultivate, in Sydney in the basement of Mirvac’s EY property at 200 George Street. The garden uses an area about the size of two car park bays and was slated to last six weeks. Almost a year later and the EY space is a self-seeding perennial.

In an unused above ground space at 275 Kent Street, Cultivate has grown a bigger, better version of itself.

Open to the public - and part of a project with Westpac (bank employees get Wednesdays to use the space, exclusively) - this iteration of the Cultivate collaboration is growing microgreens and salad vegetables and fruits for use, among other activities.

You can garden ‘aquaponically’, or relax and with on-site yoga, pilates and meditation classes. Cultivate is offering a suite of ‘activations’.

Or why not grow your own supply of microgreens (they are apparently more nutritious at this micro stage than when full grown) using the power of aquaponics by attending a 90-minute interactive masterclass hosted by Farmwall co-founder Geert Hendrix… and leave the workshop with your own DIY aquaponics set up.

It’s been said innovation fails if it doesn’t solve a customer problem. Farmwall and Mirvac’s collaboration solves space and food issues as well as providing an overall benefit to corporations inhabiting Mirvac buildings, in terms of employee relations, company productivity and brand integrity.

You don’t even have to get your hands dirty to benefit from the garden’s beauty – stepping inside, according to Serena, helps you decompress and enlivens you for a return to work: Wellbeing stats compiled during the six-week pilot with Mirvac in 2018, showed participants’ mood improved +18 percent, stress decreased -46 percent and there was a return rate of 33 percent.

As business invests in wellness programs that embody a whole-being, whole-life stance on “health”, and so meet the expectations of employees, especially younger workers with greater senses of entitlement, pop-up farms like Cultivate take the why-would-I-work-for-you considerations of employees that step further than towels and showers at End of Trip facilities.

Cultivate is located at Shop 10, 275 Kent Street, Sydney.

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