• LED lighting in Sprout Stack's hydroponic farming container. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Sydney based indoor-farming business, Sprout Stack, is part of a growing industry focusing on urban and sustainable farming.
Daniela Intili, Presented by
Daniela Intili

SBS Small Business Secrets
14 Aug 2018 - 10:16 AM  UPDATED 20 Aug 2018 - 10:50 AM

The global population is set to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, causing concern for the world's food supplies.

Adding further stress is climate change, weather volatility, and urbanisation already resulting in massive disruptions to agriculture.

“We’re facing a challenge here where we need to double the production of food by 2050,” says Francisco Caffarena, co-founder of Sprout Stack. 

“We believe it’s going to play a significant role on how we grow food in the coming years.”  

Sprout Stack is an indoor farming business trying to revolutionise how fresh produce is grown and distributed in Australia.

Based in Sydney’s North Shore, the ag-tech start-up uses the latest technology in agriculture to find smarter solutions to farming, without compromising quality or the environment. 

“It’s all about having fresh produce grown locally in an urban environment where everyone is living,” says Sprout Stack’s co-founder Michael Harder.  

Put simply, Sprout Stack is a hydroponic farm inside a shipping container. 

The containers produce large volumes of leafy greens and herbs in a climate-controlled environment.

These include lettuce, purple radish, kale and garnishes, such as lemon balm and celery leaves.  

The containers are also portable, to reduce food miles and carbon footprint.


According to Harder, this progressive form of urban farming provides organic harvest without pesticides or GMOs, all year round, with optimal freshness, taste, and nutrition. 

 Sprout Stack is also tantalising the taste buds of local eateries.

 “We were drawn to it for a number of reasons,” says Johnny Fryar, Owner of The Alchemist Espresso.

 The North Shore-based café uses Sprout Stack products for its salads and garnishes.  

“We’ve always been looking at doing more decorative things on our plate but we’re very home orientated and didn’t want anything too fancy,” says Johnny.

“This was very earthy and natural, and what I really like about it is that it’s a local business.”

Indoor farming isn’t new but Sprout Stack is adding an innovative approach with products such as its ‘living salad’ range. 

“A living salad is a salad that’s still alive when you buy it, so it reduces wastage because it stays living until you take it home,” says Michael. 

Michael and Francisco are also hoping to grow fruit such as tomatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers in the future. 

Farming is close to Francisco’s heart.  His family owned a blueberry farm in Argentina.  

“Working with my father and family was an excellent experience.

“That inspired me as a kid to study agriculture science and to keep working in the industry,” he says.

Michael wanted to be a farmer but went on to become an electrician, owning his own construction business. 

Those skills helped him build and fit out the containers for Sprout Stack. 

“Everything is built from scratch, from design and construction through to the electrical automation of the whole container," says Michael.

“Everything’s automated.”    

Sproutstack claims the containers have the potential to produce two acres of fresh, sustainable produce and use around 100 times less land and water.

While less energy is also required, managing soaring electricity costs has been one of the big challenges. 

But the development of new LED lighting has improved efficiency.  

Now, these urban pioneers are planning to build more indoor farms in other parts of Australia and hope to expand overseas in the longer term. 

“We see huge potential especially in South-East Asia where there are huge cities and they don’t necessarily have disposable land to grow their own food,” says Francisco.  

He believes future generations should be educated on the importance of ethically grown, sustainable produce.

“Teaching kids in the early years how it’s important to look after the environment and to not waste food, not waste resources and use what you need.”

Watch this story at the top of the page, or catch the full episode on SBS On Demand.