Sharing the simple joy of gardening

Simon Holloway was born on the north coast of New South Wales, spending most of his childhood on the family farm or surfing the local breaks. Raised by parents who were both teachers, the importance of helping others, spending time in the outdoors and sustainable living was instilled in Simon from an early age. Eager to explore the world, he studied International Relations at Griffith University and went on to live in Japan for three years and Saipan for another three. He worked in an array of corporate roles but was eager to take up a more meaningful opportunity.

When the opportunity rose, Simon jumped headlong into Vegepod, a business that produces self-watering pods in which families can grow vegetables without the need to use chemicals. Below the foot of soil are reservoirs of water which then naturally draws back up through the soil above in what’s known as a “wicking” process. The reservoirs hold enough water to facilitate self-watering wicking that lasts up to three weeks without rain or more water needing to be added.

A sustainable solution

“Sustainability is critical to us on two levels,” Simon says. “Firstly, in providing an efficient, effective raised-garden bed that benefits the health and wellbeing of both people and the planet.

“Wellbeing has been linked with gardening for centuries.”

“Secondly, our own internal business practices reflect the sustainable principles our Vegepods promote, even down to us having compost bins, recycling processes, bee farming, seed saving and various other bits of permaculture in and around what we call our our ‘shedquarters’.”

From a practical standpoint, Vegepod adhere to sustainable ideals through the investment in, and attention to, several specific areas:

  1. Durability: the beds are UV stabilised, strong and durable and last up to 10 years, meaning a much lower carbon footprint then most other timber and iron beds.
  2. Water Efficiency: the wicking bed bases result in 80 per cent less water usage compared to standard gardens.
  3. Recyclability: the pods do not use single-use plastics and every part of them is 100 per cent recyclable.
  4. Food safe: the base of the beds are Grade 5 virgin polyprop so they do not leech any harmful BPAs – this is not the case for many treated timers, iron beds or upcycled materials used in other beds.
  5. Free of herbicides and pesticides: the Vegepod mesh canopy does all the protection work in an organic manner and no harmful materials are required.
  6. Animal friendly: the super-fine mesh means there is no danger to the wellbeing of larger pests such as birds, bats or other mammals that can get caught up in other commonly used exclusion nettings which have large holes and draped loosely over plants.

The grow your food movement

Vegepod is involved with the Grow Your Food movement, an initiative that has now become a global phenomenon.

“It is about providing anyone and everyone the access to growing their own food no matter the age, ability, or location,” Simon explains. “We started as three Aussie blokes with humble beginnings. Matt [Vegepod’s CEO], Paul [the company’s Managing Director] and myself basically lived out the back of our vans and drove across the country introducing the Vegepod and the Grow Your Food movement to garden centres and fellow Australians.”

It took the team a good few years before the movement really took off, or earnt their own paychecks. This, in part, was due to the fact they wanted to ensure they “kept it real” and partnered with an independent network.

“We truly just wanted to help everybody grow their own food and this has evolved from simply providing product to now supporting communities who face complex challenges with our service programs,” Simon says. “This has become an ongoing inspiration for us both as a business and as fellow Australians.”

Giving back to the community is a constant aspiration of the team’s work, as evidenced by the series of community programs they run that promote the use of the Vegepods within aged care, social housing, disability care and by enterprises that practice corporate social responsibility.

Good for people as well as the planet

Wellbeing has been linked with gardening for centuries – the inaccessibility to a garden and the inability to grow your own food inhibits a crucial avenue towards wellness. The team have developed their pods as self-watering, self-contained and raised garden beds so that they are non-discriminatory in relation to age, physical abilities or experience.

“It provides all the benefits of healthy eating and therapeutic horticulture irrespective of circumstances,” Simon says.

“The Vegepod system means all can access benefits of getting one’s hands dirty which include:

  • lower anxiety
  • reduced depression and stress
  • improved concentration
  • sensory engagement
  • providing a connection to nature regardless of location
  • encouraging responsibility, care and feelings of reward
  • activating key motor skills
  • facilitating social interaction within families and the broader community
  • helping overcome boredom and loneliness
  • reinforcing a sense of belonging, inclusion and connection to place.

Whilst ornamental gardening indeed provides many of these benefits, edible gardening possesses extra rewards,” Simon says. “There’s nothing like harvesting and eating produce you have planted from seed and watched grow over time. It’s such a rewarding and pleasant feeling.”

The team have worked towards creating a solution that gives every backyard or balcony access to a more self-sustainable, improved well-being and environmentally-friendly way of life.

Making the most of difficult times

Simon says that COVID has had one silver lining, in that it has been a great driver for the entire horticulture industry, and, therefore, good for the future of the planet in an environmental sense.

“Horticulture does wonderful things for individuals, families and societies as a whole, both mentally and physically,” he explains. “People are recognising the therapeutic and health benefits of growing your own food across the globe, be that out of boredom or necessity. So, the boom in growing your own food at home, gardening together, eating fresh tasty produce and living a more self-sustainable lifestyle is definitely a positive shift that has come out of these challenging times.”

The lockdowns have, however, been a double-edged sword for Vegepod. The team have had to deal with significant increases in demand, at the same time facing the many challenges affecting supply and operation such as factory and shipping restrictions, limited travel, staff needing time off for home-schooling and cancellation of all the shows they typically exhibit at and supply from.

“We’re still a small business so keeping our humble team strong and supported during these times has been the key to pushing through oncoming challenges and indeed new opportunities too!” Simon says.

“Small businesses succeed when you truly believe in what you are offering the world and when you’re willing to start from the ground up,” Simon says. “In one sense, the last eight years has felt like a home-coming to my country roots now I’m working with soil and plants again.”

This story first appeared in issue 30 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine