Reimagining office spaces and industrial areas

Picture this. It’s a beautiful summer day, it’s 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon and you’ve ditched the desk to pick the first harvest of tomatoes that have sprung up in your office garden. The pizza oven is firing, and you and your colleagues are making pizzas out of the ingredients that you’ve grown only metres away. Doesn’t sound like a bad way to finish the week, does it?

At our office in Port Melbourne this isn’t far from reality. Biofilta is lucky enough to share the space with its sister companies Cirrus Fine Coffee, Australian Ecosystems and The Cape Sustainable Housing Estate. We all chip in to keep the garden looking great and we all get to share the delicious bounty of fresh vegies!

This is just part of our broader vision to reimagine what the work place of the 21st century looks like. At Biofilta, we firmly believe in the power of food. Throughout human history food has been at the centre of societies and cultures. It can be common language between people with nothing else in common. Sharing a meal is a ritual; it’s a gesture of respect or a peace offering. It’s essentially the oldest form of reciprocity that exists. Food has literally been bringing people together for millennia and until recently, growing and preparing food was a big part of this.

At Biofilta, we want to put food at the centre of work culture. In a world where companies spend thousands of dollars on team building activities which are, at worst, contrived and at best, short term, we want to provide an alternative. We deploy modular gardens that are water efficient, moveable and require very little maintenance. They are suitable for rooftops, balconies, car parks and any other vacant spaces that have access to water and sunshine. At our office we’ve transformed two car spaces into an urban oasis in the middle of an industrial area. The garden is attracting butterflies and bees as well as curious looks from workers walking by at lunch time. It has become such an asset that we have plans to take over another car space in the next few months.

The physical transformation of the space is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a bunch of occupational advantages to having a vegie patch in the car park. Workplace stress and anxiety is becoming more and more problematic in today’s world. Gardening is a great antidote. 5 minutes in the garden during a break is a great way to recharge and reconnect with nature. This is particularly important for people spending long periods of time behind a screen. There is also a growing body of evidence which suggests that participation in gardening and food production leads to healthier food choices.

Gardening is also a fantastic activity to build rapport amongst co-workers. No one is excluded from conversations about food. Everyone eats, everyone has stories about food. The knowledge barriers to participating in the garden are non-existent and there is so much opportunity for skill sharing. An office garden is also a great project for co-workers to derive pleasure from that is unrelated to actual work. For many workplaces, simply having conversations about things other than work is a foreign concept.

An office garden is also a great way to deal with waste. At our office in Port Melbourne all organic waste gets put in the compost and ends up in the garden. Our sister company Cirrus Fine Coffee produces coffee grounds and chaff (dried skin of the coffee bean that comes off during the roasting process) which we also put in the compost to provide a great source of nutrients for our office garden. In this way we are reducing waste output and closing resource loops.

Isn’t it a lot of extra work?

The beauty of Biofilta’s wicking beds is that they require little maintenance. The initial installation only takes a couple of hours, it’s very simple and can be done by anyone. The systems are self-watering and have a reservoir of water at the base which can last for a week in the heat of summer and a month in winter. This keeps watering to a minimum. Also, because they are bottom watering, the top layer of soil forms a dry crust which prevents weed seeds germinating. With weeding and watering out of the way, all you have to do is harvest, replenish the soil with compost, and replant.

At our office in Port Melbourne I manage the garden. I’m accountable for making sure the garden stays in good shape.  I top up the water levels and watch out for any weeds. To be honest, my job is dead easy because everyone at the office lends a hand. The garden has become a great hang out spot to eat lunch or get 5 minutes of fresh air so the garden receives enough incidental care without me doing anything. I just have to organise harvests and usually a few people are willing to help so it never takes me more than 10 minutes.

Last Thursday we had a work lunch to celebrate two staff who were both finishing up with us, and to welcome two more staff to our team. The night before we harvested vegies from the garden. My boss cooked up a vegie lasagne, some roast vegies and a beautiful Guatemalan soup, while I whipped up a salad and stir fry, all made from vegies in the garden. Everyone enjoyed the meal which we had all contributed to in some way. I’d like to think this was the norm at most workplaces, but realistically it is the exception.

At Biofilta, we want to flip this. We want to demonstrate that prioritising workplace culture can supercharge productivity and that an office garden is a great way to achieve this. With our innovative wicking beds the extra work demanded from staff is negligible and provides opportunities for staff to reconnect to nature and engage in a rewarding team building activity. Food has been at the centre of our communities since forever. Let’s bring it into our work communities.

For enquiries about Biofilta products and services feel free to send us an email at marketing@biofilta.com.au or call us on 03 9786 7254