August 16, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Melbourne lord mayor Sally Cope with Melbourne Skyfarm director Brendan Condon

Melbourne Skyfarm has hit another milestone in its ongoing development, with 650kg of fresh produce donated to OzHarvest – that’s more than 8,800 servings of vegetables – as construction continues on the sustainably focused-rooftop location owned by Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre (MCEC).

The much-awaited Melbourne Skyfarm, which has been in the works since May 2019, is a collaboration between three Melbourne-based sustainability companies, Biofilta, The Sustainable Landscape Company and Odonata Foundation, with the venture also sharing a close partnership with MCEC, owners of the carpark on the roof of which the urban farm is pumping out produce while associated facilities are being built.

Developing rooftop spaces is part of the DNA of Melbourne and has long been encouraged by the City of Melbourne, which has given $300,000 in matched funding to the Melbourne Skyfarm Project from its Urban Forest Fund. The Victorian capital has a wide range of buildings that make use of elevated space to access sunlight and to create more sustainable buildings.

But this project to create a “skyfarm” takes rooftop greening to a whole new level and shows how idle space can be turned into something beautiful, food-producing and sustainable.

It appears to be a growing trend for convention centres – just yesterday micenet reported on Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre’s (KLCC) first hydroponic rooftop lettuce harvest in partnership with local Malaysian sustainability experts at The Green Attap. While KLCC’s efforts are looking to minimise its carbon footprint and maximise the locality of its produce, Melbourne Skyfarm has a broader focus. It has a diverse garden with plants grown in planting boxes designed specifically for urban spaces such as this, using sustainable garden practices and the hands of a whole bunch of volunteers, including from within MCEC’s staff ranks.

MCEC says the urban farmers have been growing, harvesting, and donating food to OzHarvest on a regular basis. Crops being grown in the rooftop farm include beetroot, snow peas, coriander, basil, silver beet, rainbow chard, lettuce, kale, rosemary, sage, thyme, radish, cauliflower, Bok choy, carrots, parsley, sorrel, mint, chillies and apples.

OzHarvest has seen a “sharp rise” in those requiring help, particularly in April and May this year, as the cost of living – and fresh produce in particular – rises.

The Melbourne Skyfarm project is transforming the 2,000m2 rooftop of MCEC’s Siddeley Street car park into a dynamic new venue, with sustainable and contemporary dining, education and event spaces.  

Melbourne Skyfarm director Brendan Condon says it’s wonderful to see this former under-utilised carpark growing significant amounts of vegetables and herbs for charity.

“Skyfarm helps us reimagine our cities as food producing, nature friendly spaces. With the current increases in the cost of fresh food, there is an acute need and ample opportunities to design food abundant neighbourhoods and city spaces.”

Designed and manufactured in Melbourne, Foodcube wicking beds are being used for vegetable and herb production in the rooftop farm and as planters for fruit trees as well as flowers, climbers, biodiversity plantings and pollinator attractor plants.

MCEC’s commitment to its sustainability principles is also helping this project along as it works towards a full public opening of the rooftop space, which will present opportunities for business events.

MCEC’s sustainability manager Jacinta Caraballo said she was proud of what MCEC and Melbourne Skyfarm had been able to achieve with Skyfarm in such a brief time – the first plantings of the farm took place less than a year ago.

“To have had such an impact before Melbourne Skyfarm is finished construction is a testament to our partnership with Melbourne Skyfarm, and to see the harvest going to OzHarvest makes sure the crops are going somewhere they’re really needed,” said Caraballo.