Is this tomorrow’s food crop?

"With climate change we have to get in front of the game"

Even by the unconventional standards of modern-day urban agriculture, Geert Hendrix’s set-up is unorthodox. It is in an Alphington warehouse, with no windows and no soil, and is filled with the most diminutive of crops. Tiny purple radish stems, miniscule basil leaves and microscopic watercress seedlings are the heavy hitters here. Their stems strain towards LED lights and their roots stretch down through hemp fiber and coconut coir into fish-tanks.

Other leafy greens are growing on illuminated shelves that have nutrient-rich water recirculating inside them. Lettuces are being cultivated – in a sealed glass cabinet – on nothing but air and a regular misting of another nutrient solution. Other plants are tended by robot.

Hendrix says it’s the very ease and speed of growing microgreens that makes them such a powerful educational tool. “I see them as a gateway to help people become full-spectrum farmers in the future.” He expects that, over the next 10 years, big shifts in agricultural processes will create new opportunities for farming, and he wants to inspire young people to take advantage of them.

Hendrix, who grew up in Belgium and moved to Australia 11 years ago when he was working in the brewery industry, says he made the shift into farming when, about five years ago, he started thinking about how he might work in an area that better reflected his concerns about the environment and living with zero waste.

Hendrix is also working on projects to get more food grown in restaurants and hospitals as well as in underutilized city spaces such as car parks (now that more of us are working from home) and on rooftops. “If we can educate people about small-scale, closed-loop food systems and design our cities with food and nature in mind, it will make a huge difference to our personal wellbeing and to the planet,” Hendrix says. “All the technologies exist, all the natural ways exist but with climate change we have to get in front of the game.”

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