New ven­ture’s zero waste

Meet the mod­ern-day restau­ra­teur who thinks, works and pro­duces food like a farmer

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News - Sarah Hud­son news@ru­ral­weekly.com

JOOST Bakker has var­i­ously been de­scribed as a flo­ral artist, de­signer, restau­ra­teur, en­tre­pre­neur, eco-war­rior and vi­sion­ary.

The New York Times even called him “Aus­tralia’s poster boy for zero waste liv­ing”.

But to un­der­stand Joost (pro­nounced Yo-st), it helps to think like a farmer.

The 45-year-old said grow­ing up on a com­mer­cial flower farm in the Dan­de­nongs’ town of Mon­bulk – af­ter his fam­ily mi­grated there in 1982 from the Nether­lands – pro­vided the foun­da­tion for the way his brain thinks.

“On a farm you build, fix, weld, do what’s nec­es­sary. That’s what I love about Aus­tralian farm­ers, if some­thing doesn’t work, you fix it,” Joost said.

“When I opened a restau­rant with­out a sin­gle bin, it meant I had to con­nect with pro­duc­ers di­rectly to avoid pack­ag­ing, so we could grind our own wheat and make our own but­ter. I’m con­stantly look­ing for so­lu­tions and work­ing on dif­fer­ent pro­jects to show peo­ple we can do things in dif­fer­ent ways.”

Joost not only thinks like a farmer, but has his own farm, which in­spires and grounds his work and which is one of 26 gar­dens fea­tured in the Se­cret Gar­dens of the Dan­de­nong Ranges run­ning Oc­to­ber 17-20 and 24-27.

The 2.5ha prop­erty was bought in 2000 and has 500 dif­fer­ent plant va­ri­eties, sup­ply­ing enough fruit and veg­eta­bles to feed his wife Jen­nie – who is a part­ner in her fam­ily’s nurs­ery busi­ness – and three daugh­ters, as well as friends and fam­ily and oc­ca­sion­ally restau­rants such as At­tica, among the world’s top 50.

Most of the land is ded­i­cated to grow­ing blooms for his floristry busi­ness, where he picks ev­ery Mon­day to sup­ply high-end eater­ies such as Rock­pool and Stoke­house, and from which he has fa­mously cre­ated his trade­mark flo­ral installations com­bin­ing up­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als, fea­tured at Mel­bourne Cup Car­ni­val’s ex­clu­sive Birdcage at Flem­ing­ton.

While the fam­ily home will not be open to vis­i­tors in the Se­cret Gar­dens of the Dan­de­nong Ranges, it has nev­er­the­less been widely pub­li­cised.

The house is built on a 90 per cent re­cy­cled con­crete slab, with no glues, plas­ter, fin­ishes or floor pol­ishes, and with ev­ery ma­te­rial re­cy­clable, able to be dis­man­tled and used for some­thing else in the fu­ture.

“When peo­ple see the home they love it – it res­onates for its sim­plic­ity. It’s al­most prim­i­tive. The skele­ton is a steel shed with 2500 straw bales,” says Joost, who has also de­signed and built a fam­ily home in Dayles­ford, as well as a fire-re­sis­tant house at Kinglake in 2014.

“Farm­ers have this in­cred­i­ble prod­uct in straw; when com­bined with nat­u­ral cladding it’s the only house to sur­vive a full-blown bush­fire. If we went back to taller, older va­ri­eties of wheat it would cre­ate a build­ing in­dus­try.”

Joost farms the land us­ing no syn­thetic in­puts, with his 100 chick­ens and bee hives en­sur­ing soil and bloom health, un­der­scor­ing his left-of-cen­tre, un­con­ven­tional meth­ods.

“The best way I’d de­scribe my pro­duc­tion meth­ods is bio­dy­namic, although we’re not cer­ti­fied,” he said.

“I stopped us­ing sprays 10 years ago but had an out­break of this­tle five years ago so used Roundup but haven’t used it again.

“I think farm­ers un­der­es­ti­mate or are slow to un­der­stand the anger peo­ple in cities – who are their cus­tomers – have to chem­i­cals. That’s be­cause there’s such a dis­con­nect now be­tween the grower and the end user.”

To un­der­score his key mes­sage of zero waste, Joost has cre­ated nu­mer­ous events and pro­jects.

In 2008 he shot to fame with Green­house by Joost, a three-month pop-up restau­rant made from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als in Fed­er­a­tion Square, later ex­tended to Syd­ney and Perth.

He fol­lowed this with Aus­tralia’s first waste-free restau­rant, Silo (ex­panded to Lon­don), which com­posted any­thing that wasn’t eaten.

This mor­phed into Brothl, a soup restau­rant that used bones and left­overs from hat­ted restau­rants like At­tica.

Most re­cently Joost was seek­ing fi­nan­cial back­ing from ma­jor Mel­bourne com­pa­nies to con­vert con­tam­i­nated plas­tic from farms – poly­houses, shade cloth, hail net­ting, straw­berry pro­duc­tion and the like – into crude oil.

“For quite a few years I’ve been try­ing to get this so­lu­tion up, a py­rol­y­sis ma­chine, and I was so frus­trated when I couldn’t get any sup­port, so I posted the con­cept on so­cial me­dia and a cou­ple of lo­cal grow­ers con­tacted me the next day say­ing they didn’t want to see their plas­tic go to land­fill and so they’ve made it hap­pen,” he said.

“That’s what’s great about the men­tal­ity of Aus­tralian farm­ers, cut the bulls** and if it works, let’s do it. With six grow­ers we’ll be do­ing our first batch on the week­end.”

Joost ex­cuses him­self, say­ing he has to fin­ish the in­ter­view as he’s host­ing a meet­ing of farm­ers, mem­bers of the reg­u­lated raw milk move­ment.

“We pro­duce some of the best milk on the planet on year-round grass yet peo­ple aren’t con­sum­ing as much any more and that needs to change.”

Flower grower and sus­tain­abil­ity ac­tivist Joost Bakker has been de­scribed as Aus­tralia’s poster boy for zero waste.

PHOTOS: ANDY ROGERS

NEW WAVE: Flower grower and sus­tain­abil­ity ac­tivist Joost Bakker is one of the pre­sen­ters at Se­cret Gar­dens of the Dan­de­nong Ranges on Oc­to­ber 17-20 and 24-27.

Joost also owns his own farm.

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