TEDx 'crowd-farming' inspires more than a good meal

The ARIA Catering team had taken six and a half hours to sort through it all: carefully wrapped bunches of herbs in envelopes accompanied by handwritten notes, bantam and quail eggs nestled in brown paper, spring onions plucked from an inner-city balcony, two pigs, a couple of steers and a mammoth wagyu cow weighing in at nearly 300kg.

This locally grown and donated produce, and more, was to feed all 2200 TEDxSydney attendees in a powerful demonstration at the weekend not only of crowd farming – a burgeoning global food movement – but community spirit.

Here, amid the high-rise of Australia’s most populated city, the people had made a statement. They care about where their food comes from, who grows it, and the environment around them.

For those of us who didn’t contribute there was a salient lesson. On the morning of TEDx when someone asked whether I had brought in any homegrown produce, I replied: “No, I don’t have vegie garden – who’s got the time?”. By the end of the day I felt ashamed at my lack of effort, but more importantly had been inspired to get growing.

There is no excuse not to get your hands dirty, as Melbourne-based Joost Bakker, whose company Built by Joost is attracting global interest, reminded us. He flashed up example after example of the most urban spaces – inner-city laneways, densely packed apartment blocks, corporate towers – transformed into living, breathing suppliers of food.

Bakker’s message, which he reinforces so convincingly through his remarkable projects that range from houses to restaurants, is that sustainability can and should be intrinsic to our everyday lives. Rooftops, walls, balconies and windowsills can become a habitat for living creatures. We can grow fruit and vegetables, or house beehives, while at the same time create natural cooling and insulation  – not to mention more beautiful cities.

He reminds us, too, that even urine can be “harvested” and repurposed. Enough said.

But on the subject of waste OzHarvest’s celebrated founder Ronni Kahn was impressing on those gathered to see a butchering demonstration that too much food ends up in landfill. In Australia $7.8 billion worth of food is wasted every year, she said, mainly by consumers, with much of it meat.

Back in the kitchen at ARIA, chef Simon Sandall and his team were heeding her “no waste” word. They had been meeting one of the biggest challenges of their careers turning a happily disparate family of fruit, vegetables, herbs, bread and meats into a beautifully balanced lunch and supper.


Some of the bounty needed only a rinse before starring in vibrant-coloured, jumping-fresh salads; some of it required more love. The arrival of a crop of chokos prompted a “Good luck with that!” to Sandall from TEDx food curator Jill Dupleix.

Meat was roasted or minced into sausages. Fifty kilograms of kipfler potatoes became a salad and 400 litres of pickling liquid transformed green tomatoes, beetroot, radishes, chillies, and perhaps even chokos, into relishes and chutneys.

And so a magnificent feast was had, and a magnificent point was made. In the Opera House, the design of which, appropriately, was inspired by an orange.

Good job, Sydney. Let’s do it more often.

Now, where’s my spade?

Lisa Hudson is the general manager of Fairfax food and wine in Australia.