The basement of one of Sydney’s most prominent buildings, EY Centre at 200 George Street, has been transformed into an urban farm as part of Cultivate, a Mirvac pilot program that brings healthy, local produce to office workers.
The Australian-first pop-up urban farm is a partnership between Mirvac and Farmwall, a startup that creates natural, food-producing ecosystems in urban spaces. Cultivate was born out of a project that set out to explore how urban spaces such as car parks, rooftops, basements and community areas can be better utilised.
“We are really excited about seeing what is produced out of this experiment – not just garnishes for people’s lunchtime salads, but hopefully a greater sense of wellbeing, new friendships among the occupants, and possibly new supply chains,” says Campbell Hanan, Mirvac’s head of Office and Industrial.
“We have even had some teams holding their weekly meetings down here. People are telling us that it gives them a peaceful break in the middle of the working day, as well as a way of learning more about growing food.”
“Bringing food closer to the end user not only eliminates transport and packaging waste, it reconnects people with the origin story of their meal. It inspires people to think more broadly about the kind of future they want,” says Farmwall’s chief executive officer Geert Hendrix.
“We have started supplying some produce to nearby cafés, including Avenue On George cafe, and it can basically get from farm to plate in about seven minutes.”
The experiment is running out of EY Centre in Sydney, a Mirvac-built high-tech asset that has won several awards for sustainability. Volunteers from the building sign up for the Cultivate program and nurture the urban farm; a natural ecosystem that grows produce in a range of zero-waste indoor farming solutions using grow lamps.
The farm hosts vegetable patches, a hydroponic vertical farm and a vertical ‘Farmwall’, each growing their own varieties of herbs and leafy greens. The farm also produces mushrooms, grown in coffee ground waste saved from landfill.
Mirvac’s group general manager of innovation, Teresa Giuffrida, says the Cultivate pilot has the broader advantage of testing out different ways of using car parks as autonomous vehicle technology develops.
“We are starting to make step changes towards a time when we need to think differently about using assets like carparks. We will be looking at the long-term advantages of this, while assessing the health and well-being benefits of nurturing urban farming skills within the busy, office environment,” she says.
Farmwall’s co-founder Serena Lee says at the end of the experiment Mirvac and Farmwall will collate the results and assess the impact.
“We will be able to see how much interest it has generated, what impact it has had on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and whether it could be a successful business model.”