The Con­stant Gar­dener

Farm­ing wasn’t al­ways the in­dus­trial beast that over­bur­dened our planet, and Bjorn Low is try­ing to re­mind us of that with ev­ery seed he sows.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Power List -

While known a Gar­den City, Sin­ga­pore is no me­trop­o­lis given to farm­ing, con­sid­er­ing how 90 per cent of its food is im­ported and only 1 per cent of the land is cul­ti­vated. For­mer ad man Bjorn Low is chang­ing this mind­set and lead­ing the charge for a very dif­fer­ent type of farm­ing.

Low, 37, is the co-founder of Edi­ble Gar­den City ( EGC), a so­cial en­ter­prise that pro­motes ur­ban farm­ing. In a city as dense as Sin­ga­pore, Low and his team seek out pock­ets of un­used space – rooftops, restau­rant court­yards and the like – to grow veg­eta­bles and edi­ble flora. Since the in­cep­tion of EGC in 2012, its core busi­ness has been in build­ing and main­tain­ing herb gar­dens for clients like Ma­rina Bay Sands, Six Senses Dux­ton, Fair­mont Ho­tel and autism­fo­cused Path­light School. EGC also sup­plies herbs and edi­ble flow­ers to restau­rants like Adrift, Alma by Juan Amador, Tip­pling Club and Open Farm Com­mu­nity (which Low opened in part­ner­ship with Spa Esprit Group) through its pro­duc­tion arm, Ci­ti­zen Farms.

Low’s jour­ney be­gan with the epiphany that he didn’t know how food was grown. Af­ter leav­ing well-pay­ing jobs in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, he and his wife spent two years lead­ing a farmer’s life: grow­ing veg­eta­bles in farms in the UK and olives in Spain, and work­ing at an eco vil­lage in Ja­pan. He even at­tended the East Sus­sex Bio­dy­namic Agri­cul­ture Col­lege, where he learnt about an­i­mal hus­bandry.

Whether it was grow­ing crops or shov­el­ling ma­nure, his main take­away was that mod­ern farm­ers had lost their con­nec­tion to the land. “It’s all about sci­ence and maths now, where you tweak some­thing in a spread­sheet here and you have more crops ap­pear­ing over there,” he says. “It’s rather ster­ile, so bring­ing back that feel­ing of con­nec­tion is what I’m try­ing to achieve.” So what stemmed from a feel­ing of in­ad­e­quacy has evolved into a full-fledged busi­ness. And that busi­ness in turn isn’t just link­ing peo­ple with na­ture — it’s con­nect­ing peo­ple to one an­other.

Two years ago, he launched Ah Gong Farm, a farm­ing project in the low-in­come York Hill Es­tate in Chi­na­town that aims to teach iso­lated, el­derly men the joys of farm­ing and forg­ing friend­ships. “There was one man who was de­pressed and said noth­ing for the fi rst two weeks but, by the end of the sixth week, he couldn’t stop chat­ting. Now, he comes down to look at the planter boxes when he has in­som­nia,” he re­calls.

He adds: “Ev­ery time we build a gar­den, we see peo­ple come, want­ing to con­nect. And when they touch the soil and start un­der­stand­ing where their food comes from, it changes some of them.” Low ad­mits not ev­ery­one emerges with a new­found re­spect for the earth’s nur­tur­ing abil­ity but it cer­tainly looks like EGC has plenty more seeds to sow. The com­pany cur­rently sup­plies herbs, mi­cro­greens and edi­ble flow­ers to 60 restau­rants, av­er­ag­ing close to $6,000 worth of pro­duce for each restau­rant monthly.

Over­all rev­enue, mean­while, is ex­pected to hit $1.5 mil­lion this year, and will com­pound in the next three years with strate­gic in­vest­ments. “Our big­gest chal­lenge is scal­a­bil­ity. When it comes to agri­cul­ture in the city, there’s lim­ited land and only so much you can go ver­ti­cal,” he says.

But Low doesn’t seem es­pe­cially fazed. “I’ve learnt to slow down a lit­tle bit. We were rush­ing to ex­pand and that’s just like adding chem­i­cal fer­tiliser to a plant and de­mand­ing it grow faster. I want to go back to the more spir­i­tual ap­proach of grow­ing plants and ap­ply that to grow­ing the busi­ness.”

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