Project Description

Society’s biggest challenges won’t be solved by government, not-for-profits or communities alone. Successfully addressing these complex social, environmental and economic challenges requires an ecosystem approach that enables key stakeholders, whole communities, academics, entrepreneurs and innovators to come together and cocreate replicable and scalable solutions.

In 2016, Doing Something Good ran a 10 week accelerator program for ventures and community projects aimed at making Melbourne’s food system healthy, sustainable, secure, resilient and socially inclusive. Building on a program of events that started with the EcoCity Food Forum in 2013, the second Local Food Launchpad program in 2016 worked with 15 participants to develop 11 concepts that hold the potential to improve our food system and build a better food future for the people of Melbourne. This is one of them.

Learn more about the 2016 Local Food Launchpad here. Discover other Local Food Launchpad projects here.

How might we increase sustainable food production in Melbourne while addressing unemployment and skills shortages?

The Melbourne Sprout Company

Solving social issues, one sprout at a time.

The big issue

Over the last couple of years I have discovered that there is a distinct lack of opportunity for employment with the closure of manufacturing and traditional job roles, I am aiming to change that with the setup of special “Growth Centres” which are small-scale modern farming, education and training centres.

Social enterprise as a solution

I will like to be able to make each new Growth Centre a self-sufficient social enterprise that will be able to employ other new participants and turn a profit within months of commencement.  That’s when I know that the Growth Centres will be socially and economically sustainable.

A replicable and scalable model for change

Each Growth Centre is a specially-designed shipping container equipped with UV lights, watering systems, solar power backup and online monitoring that will service a local catchment of restaurants, cafes and catering operations.  The model is designed to be replicated and scalable, and ideally those participants with the confidence and ability to manage their own Growth Centre will be supported to set up a new facility in another location that has a high concentration of clients.

Where we started

The idea started when I came up with the idea of “Herb Barrels” which are self-watering, food-safe recycled barrels planted out with herbs that are located at the back of restaurants and cafes so that Chefs have access to freshly picked herbs for their venue.  I realised early that the barrels would simply not be able to keep up with the demand of a busy restaurant as their grow cycle is too slow to be sustainable.

What we learned

I asked a lot of questions, I spoke to Chefs and restaurateurs about their requirements for fresh micro herbs.  What became apparent is that those operators would like to be able to have more input into what was available for them to use; that way they could design their menu and specials and choose what types of micro herbs they would like to use, as opposed to what was only available through a supplier.  In effect growing to the specifications of those individuals.  A Chef would be able to create a dish which contains specific flavour profiles, and know that it would be available in 15 to 30 days.

What’s next

The next big step is to set up a Growth Centre in a disused, vacant space within the City of Melbourne.  I have a lot of interest from Jobactive and Disability Services to offer their clients potential employment roles, and access to vacant derelict space on the fringe of the CBD, the shipping containers themselves are relocatable, so the potential to scale and replicate this model are very straight-forward.

What we need

I have partnered with Jobactive Providers for their clients to attend the project, so having people to work on planting, monitoring and distributing the micro herbs is covered which also eliminates the overhead of wages and salaries.  The shipping container can be delivered on site ready to begin planting, I have agreements with stakeholders to use some of the vacant spaces around the CBD, so there is no outlay required for land.

What I do need is financial backing to purchase the specially designed shipping container. Each unit costs around $80,000, and to set them up with solar panels would be another $8,000.  

It would be good to be able to cover running costs for at least the first 3 months of operation while the project becomes economically sustainable.  The best thing about this project is that it is designed to begin to return investment quite quickly, a saleable product can be delivered to a customer in as little as 15 days after initial planting.  Any future growth centres would be built locally, which would reduce the overall set up costs for the next stage of development.

A little about me

Dean Sprague has over 25 years as a Melbourne Chef, and has operated a traditional farm.  Over the last fifteen years he has worked in the education and training sector as a trainer, placement co-ordinator and business development manager; his recent experience has been in community development working with long-term unemployed, special needs clients, refugees and migrants.

Like to know more or want to work with us? Please get in touch.

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Email Dean at

Phone Dean on 0400 697 250