PROVE­NANCE: GROW­ING A MOVE­MENT

SALT Magazine - - Contents -

Clos­ing the dis­con­nect be­tween peo­ple and their food by bring­ing the com­mu­nity to­gether through ur­ban farm­ing.

Home-grown Cit­i­zen Farm shows how sus­tain­able ur­ban farm­ing has the po­ten­tial to bring com­mu­ni­ties to­gether and trans­form peo­ple’s

re­la­tion­ship with food.

In highly ur­banised Sin­ga­pore, agri­cul­tural land takes up less than 1 per cent of our to­tal land area and more than 90 per cent of our food is im­ported. Our re­la­tion­ship with food of­ten starts at the su­per­mar­ket or the wet mar­ket and ends at the din­ner ta­ble. While we may share pho­tos of our meals on so­cial me­dia, the fo­cus is first on aesthetics fol­lowed by taste. There is of­ten lit­tle thought given to where our food comes from, how they are grown and the farm­ers who grow them.

A new breed of farm­ers in Sin­ga­pore hopes to ad­dress the dis­con­nect be­tween peo­ple and their food through their work at Cit­i­zen Farm, a sus­tain­able and so­cially-driven ur­ban farm that opened in the heart of Sin­ga­pore’s Queen­stown (Jalan Pen­jara) in June last year. The farm is made up of a band of 25 farm­ers from di­verse back­grounds but with a shared vi­sion of bring­ing the com­mu­nity to­gether through ur­ban agriculture. Many of the farm­ers are mid-ca­reer switch­ers such as for­mer engi­neers, bankers and civil ser­vants, and 10 of them are in­di­vid­u­als with spe­cial needs.

“The ur­ban farm pro­vides that back­drop for cre­at­ing that bridge be­tween the con­sumer and the food,” says Dar­ren Ho, 29, who heads the farm. “As op­posed to just go­ing to the wet mar­ket, they now have a farm within a town for them to visit and to touch and feel. We want to cre­ate that com­mu­nity farm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and at the same time be­come a pro­duc­tion hub for freshly grown pro­duce.”

Black sol­dier

fly lar­vae help

break down

food waste into

compost for the

farm’s plants. Dar­ren Ho leads a com­mu­nity of over 20 ur­ban

farm­ers at Cit­i­zen Farm.

In­no­va­tion en­ables the farm to grow 15 va­ri­eties of mi­cro­greens us­ing one

type of sub­strate.

UR­BAN FARM­ING MODEL

The farm is the brain­child of Edi­ble Gar­den City, an ur­ban farm­ing com­pany which sup­ports the grow-your-own­food move­ment in cities. Since 2012, Edi­ble Gar­den City has been build­ing ur­ban farms for restau­rants, ho­tels, schools, of­fices and pri­vate homes. Cit­i­zen Farm is the next step in its vi­sion to pro­mote ur­ban agriculture, es­pe­cially at un­der­utilised spa­ces.

“We wanted to cre­ate a big­ger im­pact on the com­mu­nity so we needed to find a place where we can call home,” says Ho. It found the per­fect lo­ca­tion at an 8,000 sq m plot of land, which used to be the site of the for­mer Queen­stown Re­mand Prison.

Un­like tra­di­tional farms, Cit­i­zen Farm prac­tises a closed-loop ur­ban farm­ing model which in­te­grates dif­fer­ent in­door and out­door farm­ing sys­tems to cul­ti­vate sus­tain­ably-grown, pes­ti­cide-free qual­ity pro­duce with min­i­mal waste. Its closed-loop model takes any agri­cul­tural waste gen­er­ated from one farm­ing sys­tem and re­cy­cles it for use in an­other sys­tem. The farm­ing sys­tems em­ployed on the farm in­clude a com­bi­na­tion of in­door hy­dro­pon­ics and aqua­cul­ture into an aquapon­ics sys­tem to grow leafy greens such as kale and chard; an in­door sub­strate-based sys­tem to grow mi­cro­greens like mi­cro basil and pea ten­drils; an out­door soil-based gar­den to grow edi­ble flow­ers and herbs such as Mex­i­can tar­ragon flow­ers and mint; as well as or­ganic waste to grow mush­rooms such as oys­ter mush­rooms.

Apart from mush­rooms and greens, the farm also has fa­cil­i­ties to raise black sol­dier fly and jade perch, both of which con­trib­ute to the farm’s sus­tain­abil­ity.

The black sol­dier fly, which is not harm­ful to hu­mans and does not trans­mit dis­eases, is reared to break down food waste such as soy pulp and brew­ery grains into compost for its veg­eta­bles. At the larva stage, it has a vo­ra­cious ap­petite. A tonne of black sol­dier fly lar­vae can con­sume as much as four tonnes of food waste each day. The lar­vae can also be har­vested as pro­tein-rich an­i­mal feed and are also fit for pet and hu­man con­sump­tion. The farm cur­rently feeds the in­sect to its jade perch.

To grow leafy greens, the farm’s aquapon­ics sys­tem helps to con­vert fish waste gen­er­ated from cul­ti­vat­ing jade perch into nu­tri­ents for the plants. This sys­tem also helps to pu­rify the wa­ter used to rear the fish, and pro­motes wa­ter con­ser­va­tion by us­ing 10 - 20 per cent less wa­ter to grow the leafy greens than tra­di­tional soil­based farm­ing. While Cit­i­zen Farm is fo­cused on its green pro­duce for now, it does have plans to sell the jade perch when they have grown to size.

“We wanted to cre­ate a big­ger im­pact on the com­mu­nity so we needed to find a place where we can call home,” says Ho. It found the per­fect lo­ca­tion at an 8,000 sq m plot of land, which used to be the site of the

for­mer Queen­stown Re­mand Prison.

GREEN POW­ER­HOUSE

On what sets its pro­duce apart from oth­ers on the mar­ket, Ho says: “We talk about our pro­duce in a way that no other farmer does. We place a lot of em­pha­sis on qual­ity and hon­esty. Fresh­ness is a qual­ity that money can­not buy. You can in­vest in the best tech­nol­ogy to pre­serve the fresh­ness of the food grown in Aus­tralia and bring the food here, but it’s not the same as har­vest­ing it that morn­ing and eat­ing it that af­ter­noon.”

For in­stance, its mi­cro­greens, a tasty and nu­tri­en­trich food that en­hances both the aesthetics and flavours of a dish, are grown in space-sav­ing, ver­ti­cally stacked sub­strate trays un­der en­ergy-ef­fi­cient LED light. The clean and con­trolled in­door en­vi­ron­ment not only elim­i­nates the need for harm­ful pes­ti­cides and chem­i­cals but also en­sures con­sis­tency in qual­ity. Th­ese fac­tors make its mi­cro­greens pop­u­lar with chefs.

The farm cur­rently sup­plies mi­cro­greens and edi­ble flow­ers, which are care­fully har­vested by hand, to 30 restau­rants in Sin­ga­pore. It counts Miche­lin-starred

restau­rants such as Labyrinth and the now-closed Restau­rant An­dre, as well as 1-Alti­tude and Su­per Loco, among its clients. The farm also sup­plies raw ma­te­ri­als such as lemon balm and cal­en­dula for home-grown life­style com­pany Spa Esprit Group’s spa and beauty ser­vices, as well as fresh pro­duce for its restau­rants like Tip­pling Club and Open Farm Com­mu­nity.

Cit­i­zen Farm is the only mush­room pro­ducer here to grow its own lion’s mane mush­room, a type of gourmet mush­room with wispy fringe as well as pur­ported health ben­e­fits, from spawn to fruit. It also grows pink oys­ter mush­room which de­vel­ops a deeper pink hue when tem­per­a­tures drop. Th­ese are grown us­ing or­ganic ma­te­ri­als such as saw­dust and cof­fee grounds, which are later re­cy­cled and bro­ken down into compost for its gar­den.

In all, Cit­i­zen Farm is able to grow more than 20 va­ri­eties of greens and mush­rooms on its premises. Its monthly yield of 50 - 80kg of pro­duce are sold to 30 restau­rants and 40 fam­i­lies across Sin­ga­pore. The farm has not fully-utilised its en­tire space to grow food but it is steadily scal­ing up its pro­duc­tion over the next few months. It also con­tin­ues in try­ing to grow new va­ri­eties of veg­eta­bles such as radishes, shiso and other flavour­ful and nu­tri­tious food.

This abil­ity to grow a di­verse range of pro­duce and achieve a healthy yield is the re­sult of painstak­ing re­search and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion un­der­taken by Cit­i­zen Farm to de­velop and im­prove on ad­vanced farm­ing sys­tems and cre­ate the best con­di­tions to grow its plants. With­out this ef­fort, some of its plants in­clud­ing mi­cro­greens such as nas­tur­tium and red vein sor­rel would not have thrived in Sin­ga­pore’s trop­i­cal cli­mate un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances. Says Ho: “We grow what is suited to the en­vi­ron­ment first, and then we look at what we can grow with the tech­nol­ogy that is af­forded to us. For ex­am­ple, dif­fer­ent types of mi­cro­greens would re­quire dif­fer­ent types of sub­strate but we man­aged to fig­ure out how to grow 15 dif­fer­ent types of mi­cro­greens us­ing one type of sub­strate.”

Cit­i­zen Farm also taps the ex­per­tise of farm­ers in other coun­tries with well-de­vel­oped agri­cul­tural sys­tems such as Ja­pan, Viet­nam, Thai­land, and Malaysia by vis­it­ing them at their farms to learn new meth­ods and adapt

“We en­cour­age the con­sumers to come down to col­lect their box and meet our farm­ers. Our farm­ers can tell them how to cook it, what the food is about

and its his­tory, and that builds that con­nec­tion.”

A chicken roam­ing freely on the farm’s

premises.

Mi­cro­herbs

grow­ing un­der LED

lights in a cli­mate con­trolled

space .

A small pro­to­type

of the aquapon­ics

sys­tem used to

grow leafy greens

at the farm.

them to lo­cal con­di­tions. Ho says: “I’m a firm be­liever in the cross-pol­li­na­tion of ideas be­tween peo­ple. Dif­fer­ent farm­ers us­ing the same land and the same re­sources will do things very dif­fer­ently. No one is right or wrong, it’s just which meth­ods are bet­ter pre­ferred. You form your own phi­los­o­phy as a farmer.”

SMALL FARM, BIG DREAMS

Cit­i­zen Farm has in­tro­duced var­i­ous ini­tia­tives to fur­ther its goal of build­ing a sense of com­mu­nity through ur­ban farm­ing. To pro­vide a link be­tween farm­ers and con­sumers, it sells a bun­dle of its pro­duce which in­clude leafy greens such as let­tuce and kale, mi­cro­greens like mi­cro co­rian­der, edi­ble flow­ers and herbs like blue pea flow­ers and In­dian bor­age, as well as mush­rooms like pink oys­ter mush­rooms through an eight- or 12- week sub­scrip­tion ser­vice known as the Cit­i­zen Box. By sign­ing up to the sub­scrip­tion ser­vice, Ho says that it shows the con­sumer’s com­mit­ment to sup­port the farmer’s ef­forts for a pe­riod of time. This in turn al­lows the farmer to con­cen­trate on pro­duc­ing the best qual­ity pro­duce for the con­sumers, and also gives the farmer con­fi­dence to grow more over time. He adds: “We en­cour­age the con­sumers to come down to col­lect their box and meet our farm­ers. Our farm­ers can tell them how to cook it, what the food is about and its his­tory, and that builds that con­nec­tion.”

To help peo­ple bet­ter un­der­stand its work and agri­cul­tural sys­tems in gen­eral, Cit­i­zen Farm hosts com­mu­nity en­gage­ment events such as farm tours and ed­u­ca­tional work­shops for schools, cor­po­ra­tions and other in­ter­est groups on a range of top­ics in­clud­ing how peo­ple can grow their own edi­ble gar­den, as well as cheese mak­ing work­shops. It also reg­u­larly of­fers vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties for those in­ter­ested to work on its farm.

Lo­cally, the farm is look­ing at ways to du­pli­cate the Cit­i­zen Farm model in other towns in Sin­ga­pore. It has em­barked on a project funded by non-profit phil­an­thropic or­gan­i­sa­tion Te­masek Foun­da­tion Ecosper­ity, which will see its mush­room, in­sect and veg­etable farm­ing sys­tems com­bined to­gether to form a three-storey farm­ing unit. Th­ese will com­prise both in­door and out­door grow­ing spa­ces housed in eight ship­ping con­tain­ers on its premises. The idea is to test the fea­si­bil­ity of such a unit, with a view to scal­ing the idea to neigh­bour­hoods around Sin­ga­pore in the fu­ture.

Re­gion­ally, Cit­i­zen Farm hopes to deepen its links with farms in South-east Asia that share its com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial con­scious­ness. Be­sides sourc­ing for fresh pro­duce from th­ese farms to of­fer con­sumers here a wider va­ri­ety of sus­tain­ably-farmed food, it also wants to build a com­mu­nity of like-minded farm­ers to ex­change farm­ing phi­los­o­phy with.

Ul­ti­mately, what Cit­i­zen Farm hopes to achieve is to change how peo­ple think about food. Ho says: “It’s re­ally about a life­style, a way of liv­ing. It’s mind­ful eat­ing and un­der­stand­ing how food is medicine and not poi­son.”

TEXT LEDIATI TAN PHO­TOS CHOO HAOXIN

The 8,000 sq mCit­i­zen Farm sitson the site of afor­mer prison inQueen­stown.

Har­vest­ingred veinsor­rel, atype ofmi­cro­greenby hand.

Edi­ble flow­ersfrom the farmare used bychefs to add afin­ish­ing touchto their dishes.

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