Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s inaugural Sustainability Champion is a true cross-disciplinary innovator. Equally at home in the worlds of architecture, design, science, horticulture and hospitality, he has shown how worm farms can be deployed to process commercial kitchen waste and that chairs can be made of unwanted irrigation pipes (the environmentally revolutionary pop-up Greenhouse in 2008). He has harvested diners’ urine for fertiliser (Greenhouse again, this one in 2012 for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival). He opened the world’s first zero-waste restaurant (Silo, 2011) as a working showcase of bin-free innovation.
And this year he made another giant leap by creating Future Food System, a living, breathing, productive house at Federation Square that proves the potential of everyday homes to produce their own food and energy in a circular model of self-sufficiency.
"Joost Bakker is a visionary – both an idealist and a practicalist,” says Jill Dupleix. “He has always been obsessed with waste, and always worked towards a more sustainable way of living. Everything he does is built on his belief that what we eat, drink and do can be done in a more sustainable way, by just re-thinking it. Joost requires no external energy source, and leaves nothing behind him except inspiration - which makes him our most sustainable Legend yet.”
Anyone with even a glancing familiarity with Future Food System would agree there could have been no other winner of this new award that celebrates an individual championing environmental responsibility in Victorian hospitality.
His closed-loop, off-grid house at Federation Square captured the zeitgeist when it was unveiled at the start of 2021, with its chef inhabitants Jo Barrett and Matt Stone leading tours, hosting dinners and generally demonstrating that the future is now.
“The last year has been amazing,” says Bakker. “Showing people an example of this kind of living – how possible it is – is so powerful.”
In typical Bakker style, the recent departure of Stone and Barrett has been embraced as an opportunity that gives him room to rethink the format.
“I’m really going to ramp up the tours which had to be limited while Matt and Jo were living there. Over the next six months I’ll be getting family and friends – people like Ray Capaldi and Stephanie Alexander – to visit for Friday lunches where we can cook there together.” There’s also a book about the project on the way, and a documentary that will be screened as part of next year’s Melbourne International Film Festival.
Among Bakker’s many achievements, which are too numerous to list here, one of the greatest is the community of like-minded thinkers from the hospitality industry and beyond he has inspired to challenge the status quo and embrace a waste-free future.
The incredible traction FFS has gained – in particular on social media, where it has inspired ordinary people to adopt more sustainable practices – is a far cry from Bakker’s “dark days” five years ago when he felt his message lacked the cut-through it deserved. “It all fell into place,” he says of the ability to connect people with ideas and the businesses to help make reality. It’s a hyper-charged version of his philosophy of living by example.
“If I see something needs to be done differently, I just go ahead and do it,” he says. “I’ll just have a crack, even if I don’t really know what I’m doing at the time. I don’t believe in waiting around.”
By Larissa Dubecki; photography and video by Kate Shanasy.
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