You’d need to have been living under a rock to have not heard of Joost Bakker by now…
Arriving to Melbourne as a nine year old, the Dutch born florist, designer, eco-trailblazer and hospitality entrepreneur is responsible for showing everybody else just how much can be done when it comes to sustainability, recycling and thoughtful use of resources.
First earning a reputation for his creative floral arrangements in Melbourne’s bars and cafes (he had 150 clients in the early 2000s), Joost has now opened and operates his own, including the Greenhouse, which opened as a pop-up in Melbourne and Sydney and is now a permanent venue in Perth, and Silo, a 100% no-waste café on Hardware Street.
Taking his values and the expression of these values further, Joost has also just completed a design for a family home in Daylesford and is working on a design for a fire resistant house on a property in the bushfire affected town of Kinglake.
In between all this, Joost takes a moment to step up to the Twelve Questions plate with gusto and vigour.
What is a current or recent influence?
The natural world. Always!
And a past or childhood influence? Have you had any mentors along the way?
My dad was a big influence, making me see the natural world in a different way. He kept things simple, was very practical and incredibly efficient.
When you meet somebody you don’t know at a party, how do you answer the question “What do you do?”
I usually say ‘Florist’ which I feel I still am.. . The vessels have just got bigger and inhabited by people.
What is a typical work week for you like? (Is there such a thing?)
Most weeks are different depending on what I’m working on. I could leave at 5am to get to the Daylesford site by 7am, or doing a floral installation in town, or a meeting at Silo to go through issues (there are always issues when you do stuff that hasn’t been done before)… I also try to head over to the Perth Greenhouse every 6 weeks.
But most of all I love being on our little farm we call home in Monbulk. Our girls love being outside as much as I do and there is always a lot to do – pruning, weeding, planting, etc.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what other field could you see yourself working in?
I would love to be a merchant dealing in heirloom foods. At the moment I am trying to import grain from Afghanistan. There are very few positives about the decades of war in this country, but one is that they still have thousands of varieties of grain, some that have been raised and harvested by hand for over a thousand years. One of the last places left on earth where generic western-bred seeds haven’t been marketed and replaced the unique and diverse grains they currently grow. I really hope the world realises before they are lost for ever.
After 3 years of trying I finally seem to be getting somewhere and (hopefully) soon we can have ancient Afghan grain breads at both Silo in Melbourne and Greenhouse in Perth!
What are you currently working on now (or next)?
A house in Kinglake, and we have just received planning approval for another house in Red Hill. The house in Kinglake is rather special as it was burnt down in the Black Saturday bush fires. We are using the knowledge from last year’s CSIRO fire test (below) to create an incredibly fire resistant home with gardens on the roofs and external walls of recycled crushed brick. This home will also be off the grid and be completely insulated with straw.
Sustainability, seasonality and recycling are practiced widely in the hospitality sector, but you implement these on another level – could everyone else be operating at this level too?
Well I know any idea must stack up financially and practically, so it’s about doing it, demonstrating what can be done and the positive outcomes from these steps.
A few examples, a few months ago Mitch Watson from Hepburn Springs Mineral Water told me for the first time, he sold more mineral water in kegs than in bottles. Considering the Sydney Greenhouse was the first to serve from kegs in 2011, that is remarkable. Recently Neil Perry also purchased hundreds of plastic crates, so that his produce can be delivered without cardboard. A business like Rockpool going cardboard free has a massive impact on the waste that gets generated. Simon Schulz, who’s dairy farm I just visited told me that enquiries about bulk milk are coming daily, so are the enquiries about bulk spirits and wines.
Physically, dealing with waste is messy, time consuming, dirty and I believe just not necessary. But an intangible benefit is that a business behaving ethically will attract great staff. People really feel passionate about working for someone who cares. Anyone in hospitality knows the key to a great business is staff, so these work hand in hand. Ultimately it will be driven by consumers but at the moment it is being driven by owners of hospitality businesses.
In the BUILTbyjoost business all materials must be natural/non toxic and endlessly recyclable! It is definitely possible.
In April the City of Melbourne recently rejected your development plans for a rooftop farm project on Collins Street. What is the status of this project now / Where to from here??
It was so disappointing and I was really in shock. It took me a while to comprehend that it wasn’t happening. The week following the Council meeting I had half an hour with Matthew Guy (Planning Minister) his response was, ‘this is crazy, there must be a way we can make this happen!’ After promising he would get back to me within a week, I never heard from him again. Shit happens and I have moved on. I am looking at other locations and I am sure I will be able to secure a site soon. Once I get an idea into my head, I just have to make it happen (drives my poor wife insane!).
Latest book, film or album that grabbed you?
Silo Cafe hosted a private lunch for Captain Charles Moore. At the end of lunch he gave his book Plastic Ocean. It is about how he discovered the largest garbage dump on the planet in the North Pacific Ocean. It is depressing in so many ways but reinforces why I do the work I do. We don’t need to generate ANY waste…
Favourite new toy, object, device, etc?
The InVessel composter at Silo/Greenhouse Perth from Closed Loop… LOVE IT! I even have a little one for home, it turns all organic waste into incredible compost! The growing trials are showing remarkable results.
Putting organic waste into rubbish is banned in many countries, so it is just crazy that in Australia it makes up half of all of our waste that goes in to landfill!
If you could change one thing…
Pass a law that only allowed the use of endlessly recyclable materials in our world. Simple.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice to your 21 year-old self, what would it be?
Slow down! It’s a journey not a mission.
By Matt Hurst