When I first discovered INFARM it was a cold and wet Berlin day and I was fleeing the rain after working in the community garden around the corner. I’d seen some pictures and was eager to see it for myself. The humid air, the array of plant life and the soulful music: I was instantly transported back to hotter climates that I know and love.
INFARM is a recently opened café and event space in the Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg. It is a family affair; run by Guy and Erez Galonska, two brothers from Israel, with the help of their rock-star chef Charlie Megira and Erez’s wife Osnat. From that very first day I have felt nothing but at home at INFARM. It’s not just another hipster cafe like many others in the neighbourhood – it’s much more than that. INFARM offers farm to table, or should I say ‘wall to table’, greens and micro-greens from their indoor vertical garden.
Micro-greens are a tiny form of young edible greens, produced from various kinds of vegetables, but differ from sprouts (which are younger and processed in dark conditions using water). Micro-greens are essentially baby plants and offer a high concentration of vitamins and nutrients. “They are beautiful and extremely good for you. The amount of nutrients in a green shoot can be up to 5 times that of the full grown plant,” says Erez.
Before meeting Osnat and having their daughter Nikko, Erez had been travelling and working on various farms and co-operatives around the world. “It was kind of like a quest, searching for a more meaningful way of living”. The idea for INFARM first came about in the Canary Islands, on the island of La Gomera, a place that brims with delicious and fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables, all year round. Erez found an alternative community nestled in the mountains, and was introduced to the concept of hydroponic growing. “It was a very private group comprised of diverse individuals, completely sustaining themselves outside of regular society and only occasionally trading goods with the supermarkets and stores in the nearest town,” he explains. Simultaneously, his brother Guy was on his own travels. He studied Chinese medicine briefly and gained experience working in restaurants. They regularly met up and exchanged ideas and stories of their adventures.
Guy, Erez and Osnat’s dreams of owning a plot of land led them to the possible option of staying to live on La Gomera. They were inspired, but the thought of permanently being somewhere so remote raised concerns. “We like the excitement of city living and the energy of the people. A city moves fast, it’s inspiring and it always pushes you to do more. Living on an island meant giving up all of that, and living at a much slower pace,” says Erez. While their stay in the Canaries was a great experience, somehow they knew they had to take the knowledge they had acquired and apply it to a more urban context in the city.
The trio began brainstorming and researching locations and Berlin became the answer they were looking for. “Berlin is a place that is open to immigrants, to people and ideas. It was the perfect place to test out our vision and show what we had learnt over the years. People here are accepting and genuinely interested. It is relatively cheap, and with the long winters there is a need for locally grown food all year round.”
With that goal in mind the first step was to forget about soil, something that is rare in an urban environment anyway. During one of those grey Berlin winters, the trio started experimenting with hydroponics in their apartment. “We had 150 plants, growing in a system we built out of materials from the hardware store. It was amazing. We ended up with a jungle and even made a video about it”.
The apartment set-up was followed quickly by a living micro-green installation, housed in a restored 1955 vintage airstream trailer at Prinzessinnengärten during the summer of 2013. The project was designed to introduce people to the idea of growing and eating micro-greens; the set up, a living buffet where you could come and cut your own produce and be educated about the environmental impacts of traditional agriculture on our daily lives, and indoor farming as a potential solution. “Micro-greens are quick and easy to grow, and can be used in every day food preparation. Add the greens to yoghurt topped with olive oil and then sprinkle with spirulina. We call it the Power-Bowl,” suggests Guy.
Next came the group’s micro-farm in the sky — MikroGarten — at the 25Hours Hotel-restaurant at Bikini Berlin. In collaboration with design studio Aisslinger, the hydroponic system was designed and installed specifically with the job of providing the restaurant with fresh micro-greens, with shelves that could be increased or reduced according to the kitchen’s demand. At the time of shooting this story, INFARM was in the middle of preparing their crowd-funding campaign on Indigo-go, a collaboration with Swedish design studio Tomorrow Machine for an origami micro-green starter kit, and there are also many other projects and collaborations in the works.
Germans are no strangers to the concept of micro-greens. Cress, for example, is available in almost every supermarket, but the variety of things you can grow this way is endless. Ask Guy and he will tell you that amaranth is particularly beautiful – “with its deep purple leaves, intense flavour and aroma”. At the café, the brothers are growing rucola, all kinds of radishes, mustards, beetroot, anise, carrots, basil, and sunflowers, to name just a few – and everything produced on site is fulfilling their original goal of fuel efficient, local food production. The boys are constantly experimenting with new micro-green varieties and ingredients, and all are being put to the test each week by INFARM chef, Charlie Megira. “Charlie is a brilliant musician and a great chef – somewhat of a legend in Israel. He always had the craziest shows and worked in the best restaurants in Tel-Aviv. We connected here in Berlin through a mutual friend and the rapport was instantaneous. He walked into our kitchen and whipped up a royal feast in less than 30 minutes. We were all so impressed, and everyday we are so happy to have him here working with us.”
The food at INFARM could be described as typical Tel-Aviv Jaffa cuisine. Charlie takes traditional recipes used for centuries and gives them his own minimalistic-spin. Along with micro-greens on offer, there is an abundance of wheatgrass, something common in Israel and other parts of the world, but still a bit of a novelty in Berlin. Guy nominates Charlie’s Freekeh Salad, a mainstay on the menu, as one of his favourite INFARM dishes; a combination of young smoked wheat, fresh herbs, lemon, olive oil, finely diced vegetables and tahini. “Seafood is also a menu favourite – simple, clean and rewarding, there are so many amazing things Charlie can do with seafood.”
Food is the glue that holds the Galonska family together. The brothers grew up with the weekly tradition of festive Friday dinners and with a mother that refused to stop cooking or baking. Their parents even ran a restaurant for a couple of years in Tel-Aviv, and now with the brothers in Berlin, the family legacy continues with this warm and welcoming space at Glogauer Strasse. Erez sums it up perfectly… “For some, food is a practical thing, but for us it’s a celebration of life in its simplest, truest form.”
Glogauer Strasse, 6
10999, Berlin, Germany
Instagram // @infarm