Joost (pronounced “Yoast”) Bakker is a man who is difficult to classify. A fifth-generation tulip farmer, his career combines art, food and sustainability; his creative adventures making us marvel at their invention as well as question how we as a society operate
What experience made you enter this field of endeavour?
It has been a combination of many experiences. Growing up in Rustenburg near Amsterdam, my Grade 1 teacher told my mum that I would gain a lot from being mentored by a local artist. I spent Wednesday afternoons with him for a few years until we migrated to Australia. This was a unique experience in itself, and definitely had a big influence on me and gave me confidence in my artistic ability.
Who has been your strongest influence?
My dad, by far. His passion, hard work and love of the natural world made me appreciate and respect how complex it really is. Once someone shows you how to see beauty in simple things, you see it yourself forever. I believe beauty is everywhere, we just need to be open to see it.
Who most inspires you and why?
There are many people that inspire me and I have met some incredible people in my life. But without doubt a person that made a big impression on me this past year was Alan Savory. He is a man who has lived an extraordinary life and imparts so much practical wisdom. He realised many years ago that farmers are all in the same predicament, whether in Chile, Canada, Europe, India or Australia. He believes it is simply human nature to live beyond our means, and forever feel like we need to yield, grow and constantly increase what we have. He found farmers in Africa with annual incomes of $500 putting themselves in the same predicament as farmers in North America with annual incomes of $500,000. I will never forget meeting him.
What is the most rewarding thing you do?
To teach my kids and the many people I collaborate with the importance of real food grown in real soils. I love that my kids understand the importance of healthy soils, healthy habitats and plants and how extraordinary all of these things are.
Where do you get your energy?
From growing, harvesting, preparing and eating amazing food as well as being surrounded by friends that are creative. Living in our beautiful property, located in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne, is a great pleasure – at the moment my kids are climbing the walls of our house, it is covered with thousands of strawberry plants!
Of your life experiences, what is your most treasured?
I’m never completely satisfied with what I’ve done and always strive to do better, but I am proud that in the last six weeks alone we have influenced two of the best three chefs in the world (Rene Redzepi from NOMA in Copenhagen and Alex Atala from DOM in Sao Paolo) to change the way they operate their restaurants and start composting the organic waste they create! A world without waste is really what I bang on about. The fact that today, one third of the world’s gas is used for fertiliser is just wrong. At the same time we are burying organic waste in landfill. It makes no sense to me!
What are you currently working on?
I have a lot of projects on the go! We’re continuing to run our Silo By Joost Café in Melbourne. It’s a café that I designed in reverse. I started at the end; assessing the waste production, and worked back from there. My dream has always been to build restaurants that create no waste and I am excited that Silo is achieving this. This was a natural evolution from the pop-up Greenhouse projects developed in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. All the features of the Greenhouse cafés were carefully considered, first for their practicality, recyclability, life cycle and embodied energy and then for their aesthetics and cost. I am also working on building an urban intensive farm on a rooftop in Melbourne.
Is there a food issue that you are particularly passionate about?
There are so many things I’m passionate about. Creating systems that allow farmers to sell milk direct is one example. At our Greenhouse Perth, we use 20 litre stainless steel barrels to get milk direct from a farm in Western Australia. We pay the farmer $1.80 per litre and he supplies us 1,600 litres per week as well as cream. My argument is that you only need a dozen regular customers to take decent quantities and pay a decent price and all of a sudden the economics of running a farm change. The farmer can consider reducing the herd from 500 to 150, which means he doesn’t need to buy in hay, grain or silage. This reduces the stress on the land and makes farming more sustainable and much more profitable.
Australian dairy products are far superior than any in the northern hemisphere. Our animals are outside year round, in the sun, collecting vitamin D and eating natural grasses. Northern European dairy farmers say they can’t make money by simply letting their cows just eat grass, so they feed them soya beans – it is complete madness, and we all need to have a good hard look at ourselves! We need to get back to basics!
What legacy would you like to leave the world?
Imagine a world without waste! That is something that I would love to see happen.
What’s for dinner tonight?
My wife Jen is the one that mostly cooks, but every week I turn two litres of raw cream into butter, four litres of raw milk into yoghurt and with the leftover buttermilk I ferment amazing bio-dynamic rain-fed rice from far north New South Wales for 24 hours, which increases the nutrient level of the rice ten fold. To cut a long story short, we are having a risotto made with this rice tonight!