Where Eco-Warrior and Designer Joost Bakker Finds Inspiration

The Greenhouse creator might be known for his work in the food space, but his heroes come from the worlds of art, science and medicine.

Article by Max Veenhuyzen

Greenhouse by Joost Bakker is open in Federation Square, Melbourne. Photography by Earl Carter.

Greenhouse, according to its designer, Joost Bakker, isn’t a restaurant. Sure, this temporary installation at Melbourne’s Federation Square might offer selected lunch and dinner services through the week. Sure, two of Australia’s more celebrated chefs — Jo Barrett and Matt Stone, late of Oakridge winery in the Yarra Valley — are living here temporarily. And sure, restaurant folk across Australia and the world are following Greenhouse and its radical urban farmhouse cuisine with a very close eye (from the vegetables to the seafood to the insects, all the ingredients Barrett and Stone cook are raised onsite). But at the end of the day, this self-sustaining, self-contained house and ecosystem isn’t here to challenge the dining status quo: Greenhouse wants to shake up the entire food chain.

“I’ve always thought the existing system is dumb,” says Bakker, a Dutch-born, Yarra Valley-raised designer who has made a name for his anti-waste pop-ups and projects. “Where there’s a house and where there’s people, there’s waste, which means there’s nutrients. The nutrient density of our food is the biggest thing we need to tackle. To me, the most practical and simple solution is to grow food where you generate the waste.”

Just as Bakker takes a maverick approach to food production — Greenhouse, among other things, uses shower steam to grow its mushrooms and employs a biogas digester to turn the house’s organic waste into fuel for the kitchen — his list of people-I-look-up-to is equally surprising. (“Do they have to be alive?” he asked when T Australia approached him for this piece.) Listed in order of when they appeared in Bakker’s life, these are the thinkers who have inspired him to dare to be different.

Mushrooms are grown using shower team on site and served in the restaurant. Photography by Earl Carter.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Austrian artist and architect

“I have an uncle and aunt in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and Mum and Dad holidayed there each year. I was around 10 when they came home with this book of Hundertwasser’s work. He was an Austrian artist who spent six months of his year in New Zealand and six months in Austria and was obsessed with the idea of making urban-area ecosystems. I just fell in love with his work. In the ’60s he did things like retrofit buildings to create vertical and rooftop gardens and connect toilets to a compost system. He worked on literally hundreds of buildings, including public buildings and power stations. His museum in Vienna [Kunst Haus Wien] is one of the most popular attractions in the city. He was really trying to make people realise that urban areas could be incredibly productive. He believed that if a building already exists, why pull it down and rebuild it and create all this waste? I’m a big believer in that as well.”

Alex Podolinsky, Australian biodynamic farming pioneer

“Growing up, every Sunday Mum would make a roast chicken and we’d have dinner and then sit down at 7:30pm to watch “60 Minutes” as a family. In 1986, I vividly remember seeing a feature on Alex Podolinsky and how Australia was embracing the idea of biodynamics, and he was this guy farmers thought was God. He was very practical, very blunt and didn’t put up with any shit, but was respectful of farmers and the difficulties they faced, which was unusual in European biodynamics, which was more academic. What he was saying really resonated with me and I started collecting his books, learning about water and how it’s a living thing, and planting by the moon. It blew my mind. Because of Alex’s work, Australia has more hectares of land mass under biodynamic production than any other country. He’s an incredible guy and a hero of mine, but no one seems to know much about him.”

Weston Price, Canadian dentist

“Weston Price was a highly respected dentist and is probably my number-one inspiration. He wanted to understand why tooth decay was so rampant in the US while some populations around the world seemed to be immune from the disease. He convinced the American Dental Association to fund this research trip to visit populations that hadn’t changed their food for at least a thousand years. That first trip produced such a great body of work, [he] ended up [receiving] funding for 12 years of trips all over the world, [to visit] villages in Switzerland, an island in Scotland and Aboriginal groups in Australia.

One thing all these populations have in common is what he called the “[Activator] X-factor”. A diet high in this X-factor means the calcium and the phosphorous you eat goes into your bones and teeth, while a diet low in this X-factor means it goes into your arteries. A few years after he died, scientists isolated the vitamin and named it vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is only in animals and insects that eat fast-growing greens. He saw that in this Swiss village that only made cheese in spring when the grass was growing really fast and the cheese gave them K2 all through the winter. Other tribes would eat insects that only ate fast-growing leaves and the tribe would roast the insects and save them for when those leaves weren’t growing so fast.

It only takes 10 to 12 days for K2 to leave the body, so if you put animals in grain feedlots before they get slaughtered, that whole body loses its K2. I saw a great graph once that showed the rise in stroke and heart disease in America over the past 40 years correlates directly with the rise in animals coming off pasture and going into feedlots. That gave me the appreciation and understanding that you can’t fuck with stuff. You’ve got to understand why certain things get eaten with certain foods and why.”