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Melbourne to get a sustainable farm in the sky

An impression of what Skyfarm will look like when finished.

A collaboration between business and not-for-profit organisations is set to deliver an innovative rooftop urban farm and sustainability education hub in the heart of Melbourne.

The Skyfarm project, which officially launched this week, is located on a 2000sqm carpark rooftop located opposite the Melbourne Convention Centre.

On the site will be an urban farm that uses modular wicking beds designed and manufactured in Melbourne by Biofilta, a conference and event centre, café, classrooms, design hub, video conferencing facilities and office space for project partner Odonata, a biodiversity protection NFP.

Other partners in the project include The Sustainable Landscape Company. OzHarvest is also on board, with the farm planning to supply produce for the food charity as well as the hospitality venues on the rooftop.

Co-director of Skyfarm, Brendan Condon, told The Fifth Estate the site will also act as a laboratory and education site for many of the emerging sustainability technologies.

This includes rainwater harvesting and re-use, solar power technologies, low-carbon mobility including electric vehicles and electric bikes, beneficial nutrient loops and backyard biodiversity.

Its location near the Convention Centre and next door to the sustainable hotel under construction as part of the Riverlee development makes this an opportunity to create a sustainable precinct, he said.

It’s taken two years to get the project off the ground

The project has been two years in the making. The site was identified using Nearmap to find a suitable rooftop, and a $300,000 grant from the City of Melbourne Urban Forest Fund.

The balance of the project costs are being funded by business and philanthropic partners, Mr Condon said.

The farm is slated for construction in July and August of this year, with the buildings delivered throughout 2020 ahead of full completion at the end of 2020.

As well as vegetables and herbs, the farm will have bees, examples of biodiversity-enhancing flowering plants and an orchard.

Links will be forged with sources of compost including the South Melbourne Market and the Convention Centre.

It will be open to the public for tours and access to the café, and classrooms are expected to host around 10,000 students a year at all education levels to learn about sustainability.

Teleconferencing facilities will enable students to connect with leading projects and practitioners around the world.

The conference centre and event spaces will be available for a diversity of gatherings, including weddings.

How much produce can be grown at the farm?

Ahead of the launch of Skyfarm, the team have constructed and operated a test farm in Port Melbourne for the past six months. Using two car spaces, the farm has produced over 300 kilograms of fresh vegetables and herbs, with the majority of produce donated to Ozharvest.

Mr Condon said it is expected the new farm will produce around five tonnes of produce per annum.

Harvest from the pilot farm. Brendan Condon is on the left.

The rooftop farm will be a sustainability showcase

The project will also demonstrate the value of urban rooftop greening, by turning an under-utilised space that currently acts as a heat bank into a cool zone.

The buildings will use the best practice approaches that feature at another of Mr Condon’s projects, The Cape residential community at Cape Patterson.

All buildings at Skyfarm will incorporate passive solar design, energy-efficient construction and fitout, solar PV and all-electric systems. He said the development will also be purchasing 100 per cent certified green power for any grid energy use.

Skyfarm will also become a sustainability test bed

It will demonstrate to Melbournites a whole range of practical sustainability approaches, and become a “perpetual sustainability laboratory” where new innovations such as solar glazing, more efficient inverters or more efficient solar panels can be installed and demonstrated.

The rooftop farm has been purposefully designed to be replicated in other suitable sites and in other cities, Mr Condon said.

“It is an optimistic and positive project,” he said.

“It will be putting all the emerging sustainability technologies at the fingertips of people in Melbourne.”

Odonata will be located its headquarters at the site.

The rooftop farm will be an educational tool

Co-director of Skyfarm and chair of Odonata Nigel Sharp said the location will be an opportunity for the organisation to “bring its stories to people”.

It currently has projects in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, including large-scale fenced areas for the recovery of endangered fauna species such as Mt Rothwell Conservation and Research Centre in Victoria, and multiple bush regeneration projects.

“It is expensive for schools to get buses [to get students out to projects],” he said.

Arriving at OzHarvest food charity in Port Melbourne.

The video-conferencing facilities, however, will enable them to engage with and learn about these types of initiatives without having to leave town.

Mr Sharp is also an executive chair of Tiverton Rothwell Agriculture, a regenerative agriculture investment company, and director of Dragonfly Impact Company, a nature-first investment company.

He told The Fifth Estate involvement with the Skyfarm is also an opportunity to demonstrate regenerative agriculture approaches.

It will also highlight way to mitigate climate change by using plants for temperature management and enhancing biodiversity in urban backyards.

“A lot of what we want to do is inspire and enthral people.”

The location will also provide a space for meeting with stakeholders and supporters including investors and state government agencies.

“And if we are part of a working project, we live what we are promoting,” Mr Sharp said.

“We are all about trying to reconnect people to nature and the importance of nature.”

At Skyfarm it will be possible to show people that “it is not hard to care for nature.”

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