Sky Farm rooftop farm Melbourne

Brendan Condon and his co investors in the $3 million Skyfarm venture launched in Melbourne last week reckon they are on a winner.

The project, part funded with a $300,000 grant from the City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Fund, has huge ambitions – to provide food that will be donated to Oz Harvest, a nursery, educational resources for schools and anyone else who wants to learn about growing food and plants – especially in a city environment – and to cap it off, a place for fun with events space, a 90 seat restaurant and bar. 

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp was enthusiastic at the launch last Thursday during a typically Melbourne day – rain, wind and then sunny – to say, “Melbourne loves bars and we are expecting people to come in droves,” she said at the launch.

“It adds to the number of projects we have across Melbourne that add to our green space and a great example of how we can deliver really extraordinary spaces.”

And while it might add to the number of green projects it will stand alone as an integrated project that Brendan Condon says that he and his business partners, including Odonata, a not-for-profit biodiversity management company, expect to make a return on investment.

He told The Fifth Estate on Tuesday the shining example is New York’s Brooklyn Grange which pioneered the rootop farm concept and whose organisers, Condon says, were hugely generous with their advice.

(It’s that kind of world in sustainability land, we can’t help thinking.)

Condon says the build was slow and technically challenging – with design constraints and the inevitable load bearing considerations to contend with. And that’s before COVID placed its own unique set of brakes on the process.

For now though there’s been delivery of the working farm components with the balance of the project to be rolled out in 2022. 

“We’re going to be donating the majority of the food we generate to Oz Harvest and will also be carrying out a lot of resourcing and a lot of environmental education with primary and secondary students.”

The team which will eventually number around 20 full time staff, Condon estimates, will also stream in video and other content from around Australia and the world to bring together best practice in the fidld.

“We will be curating educational content and that will be partly on farm stuff and using broadband to connect with projects around the world.”

“We really want to have an experience for students to see working farms model climate resilience, design and biodiversity.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Skyfarm Director Brendan Condon
Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Skyfarm Director Brendan Condon

The launch of the project on Wednesday, at Docklands, in an event attended by Condon and fellow Skyfarm director Nigel Sharp and Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre chief executive Peter King, has garnered strong interest.

The space of about 2000 including garden and installations has been carved from an under-utilised car park in Docklands at 671 Siddeley Street, Docklands.

Condon, a director of project partner Biofilta, had been investigating the possibility of a high-profile project when he discovered the City of Melbourne’s Urban Forest Strategy and applied for the grant.

Using Google maps and Australian aerial imaging company Nearmaps, Condon searched around the city until he identified the under-utilised rooftop.

The site is owned by the Convention and Exhibition Centre, which already has a strong focus on sustainability and community engagement, and it jumped on board with enthusiasm. 

King said the MCEC is known for taking a different approach and Skyfarm is “about as different as it gets”.

Typical rooftop systems require a sealed membrane which can be expensive and time-consuming to install but the Biofilta involves modular units – or “foodcubes” – which can be clipped together and reconfigured if needed.

Biofilta designs and produces the urban food growing systems used on the project. Typical rooftop systems require a sealed membrane which can be expensive and time-consuming to install but the 

Biofilta involves modular units – or “foodcubes” – which can be clipped together and reconfigured if needed.

Skyfarm currently consists of 800 square metres of garden including vegetables, flowering plants and fruit trees and by this time next year will also have an event space, bar, cafe and environmental education centre.

Mayor Capp said the project was well suited to Melbourne.

“Melbourne loves bars and we are expecting people to come in droves,” she said at the launch.

“It adds to the number of projects we have across Melbourne that add to our green space and a great example of how we can deliver really extraordinary spaces.”

Condon said the project had been three years in the planning.

“It’s a beautiful, vibrant space. It has leafy greens, deep-rooted vegetables and fruit trees,” he said.

“It’s turning a previous hot zone into an urban cool zone and we expect it to be the first of another 100 rooftop farms.

“It’s so good, two members of my staff are planning to get married up here.”

Skyfarm is a collaboration between Odonata a not-for-profit biodiversity management company, biofilta, the Sustainable Landscape Company, MCEC and the City of Melbourne.

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