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