The Henry family are repurposing farm waste into innovative, renewable building materials.

It is the latest project for Rowena and Tony and their sons Andre and Jason from Glencoe Farms, who have long embraced innovation on their north-west Victorian farm, where they grow tomatoes in summer and grain in winter.

The Henry family grow quality produce and market pastas, pasta sauces and vegan jerky made from ingredients grown on their farm. However, they realised they could also create more from what they grow.

About 10 months ago, the brothers started exploring how they could turn tomato vine waste into building materials.

Usually after harvest, the vines are pushed to the end of a paddock and burned because they don’t have digestible value for livestock, nor do they compost well, and are a potential disease risk for future crops. They wanted to explore sustainable alternatives.

The brothers worked with the Bio21 Institute to test some ideas, and are now working towards patents both in Australia and overseas. Andre said the potential was huge because tomatoes are the most widely grown fruit crop in the world.

This growing season, they want to test the logistics and costs of removing tomato vines from farms, and calculate the value of the material and the potential return to growers.

“Our aim is to get the technical and commercial aspects of it right, then look at potential applications and markets,” Andre said.

Both he and Jason qualified as engineers at Monash University. Jason works in Melbourne in construction, and Andre has moved back to work on the family farm. They are both part of the Rocket Seeder Spring Crop 17 food and ag startup accelerator program.

“The best thing about the Rocket Seeder program is being part of a cohort of people and having a day each week dedicated to questioning your assumptions, not just about technical specs – because as engineers it’s natural for us to focus on that – but also about what market we’re trying to hit, and how the product solves the customer’s problems,” Andre said.