• The coffee roaster's urban garden grows an abundance of greens. (Cirrus Fine Coffee)Source: Cirrus Fine Coffee
Melbourne roaster Cirrus Fine Coffee grows vegetables and herbs in a tiny garden, thanks to the help of coffee waste.
Audrey Bourget

17 Jan 2019 - 1:20 PM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2019 - 1:56 PM

The pop-up farm on Cirrus Fine Coffee’s parking lot is a little green oasis in the industrial area of Port Melbourne.

“We have heritage varieties of tomatoes, corn, zucchini, pumpkin, spring onion, beetroot, rainbow chard, spinach, silverbeet, flowers to attract beneficial insects and also a range of herbs like chives, basil, oregano and coriander,” says Brendan Condon. And all of this only takes up two parking spaces.

Condon is the director of sister companies Cirrus Fine Coffee, Biofilta and Australian Ecosystems, which have collaborated to develop super-efficient compact pop-up farms. “We often think that we have overcrowded cities, but if you look at them from the lens of urban farming, we have huge amounts of space. We can flip cities into becoming super-efficient food growers,” he says.

From landfill to compost

Each year, caffeine-loving Aussies produce around 75 000 tonnes of coffee waste, most of it ending up in landfill where it contributes to the production of methane, a greenhouse gas. But coffee grounds don’t have to end up there; they can be composted and used to produce food.

Cirrus Fine Coffee’s own pop-up garden uses a mix of composted coffee grounds (rich in minerals and nitrogen), husks from the roastery (a good source of carbon), food scraps and a small amount of manure, to help produce around 300 kilos of food per year. With the World Health Organisation recommending adults consume a minimum of 146 kilos of fresh fruits and veggies per year, it means that one of these pop-up farms could provide enough for two people for a whole year.

“We often think that we have overcrowded cities, but if you look at them from the lens of urban farming, we have huge amounts of space. We can flip cities into becoming super-efficient food growers.”

The Biofilta wicking (self-watering) garden beds are easy to install and low maintenance. The design holds enough liquid to water the garden for a week in summer and a month in winter.

“We want people to take advantage of the abundant resources for urban farming and to engage with it, so we improve nutrition and health, and divert waste from landfill,” says Condon.

Cirrus Fine Coffee is committed to sustainability in more ways than one. Its coffee beans are ethically sourced, the brand's packaging is biodegradable and its offices run on clean energy.

It's also partnered with Reground, an organisation that goes to cafes to pick up coffee grounds and transport them to community gardens and pop-up farms.

“We all need to work together,” says Ninna K. Larsen, founder of Reground. “We work at changing the system rather than just collecting coffee. Coffee is just a great conversation starter. It’s about getting people talking about what organic waste can do, instead of going to landfill. We can grow food with it.”

Condon would like to see cafes and people around Australia embrace urban farming. “If you have a cafe where you recycle coffee grounds to grow food, people will want to go there and support that business,” he says. “Hopefully, in a few years, it will be common practice.”


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