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Singapore is often described as a city-state, and it certainly strives to live up to the first part given

how urbanized it is. Given how scarce land is in the country, its hard to imagine finding enough
space for a traditional farm to be set up in Singapore. I specifically mentioned traditional farms;
modern urban farms just might be a feasible way for the city-state to grow its own crops. Urban
farming is the practice of growing crops in a city setting, most often on the rooftops of buildings or
along walkways. As the lack of space is often a problem for urban farms, creative solutions are often
employed in order to make use of as much space as possible like stacking rows of pots above one
another to allow for more crops to be grown in an area. Successfully integrating these farms into an
urban setting is a key part of urban agriculture, something Singapore has had plenty of experience
with.

Determined not to end up becoming yet another concrete jungle, Singapore has put in much effort
into becoming a Garden City by integrating as much greenery and nature into the urban sprawl as
possible with ornamental planter boxes a common sight in most buildings and parks now built into
the newer HDB apartment blocks. Given Singapores inability to grow its own food and its habit of
incorporating plants into infrastructure, it wasnt long before some people started wondering if we
could do the same with food crops.

Edible Garden City

One of those people was Mr. Bjorn Low. Having spent five years working in urban farms across
Europe, Mr. Low felt urban farming was a natural fit for Singapore. Setting up Edible Garden City in
2012 to encourage more Singaporeans to take up urban agriculture, Mr. Low conducts both
corporate workshops and outreach programs to schools by providing them with seeds, equipment
and guidance. We sat down with Mr. Low at Edible Garden Citys retail unit at the Horticultural Park
to get his take on the future for urban farming in Singapore.

*Insert Video Here*

Economics

Mr. Low is upfront about the difficulty he faces making urban farming profitable. He reveals that the
sweet potato plants in the containers around us are grown not for their tubers, but the leaves which
have plenty of nutritional value. The tubers take at least five months before theyre large enough to
be eaten and require a lot of space. We just cant compete with the farms in Thailand or Malaysia on
quantity or price.

This is why most of the urban farms here are located on spaces that are not utilized such as rooftops
or grass patches. The high cost of renting the space also affects the kind of plants that are grown.
Existing urban farms in Singapore have had to get creative and adapt to the situation. Readily
available plants that could be sourced from neighbouring countries are avoided due to the low
prices that could be fetched. Hence, many of the plants grown are usually those which are air-flown
from much further countries. Most of them produce herbs and spices, which do not require much
space, for restaurants and hotels which are willing to pay a premium for fresh ingredients, with
Edible Garden City looking to branch out into salads as well. In order to grow crops on a larger scale,
urban farms require plenty of supporting infrastructure like hydroponic pipes, nutrient solutions and
artificial lighting to produce an economically feasible amount, all of which raise operating costs. In
addition to infrastructure, large-scale urban farms have to be properly optimized in order to
maintain profitability and a negative carbon footprint.
Even if an aspiring urban farmer decides that it would eventually be profitable, there are several
regulations involved specifically to urban farms (food hygiene and pest management which is
regulated by AVA still applies). If the urban farm is on a rooftop, it must not exceed the maximum
floor load as stipulated by URA. In addition, the drainage of water has to be approved by PUB,
especially for hydroponic farms as the discharged water contains plant waste and leftover nutrient
solution.

Social Impact

With all the issues that urban farmers face when setting up commercial farms, its hardly surprising
to learn from Mr. Low that for him, turning a large profit is not his first priority. For him, Edible
Garden City is a platform to encourage more people to take up farming and reconnect with the food
they eat first, and a business second. Its a sentiment echoed by most commercial urban farmers
across the world; they see their farms primarily as a way to engage their communities and bring
them together.

In Seoul, community urban farms are set up above office buildings with the help and advice of
farmers from South Koreas rural provinces. However, these urban farms do much more than just
provide food and a convenient way for employees to de-stress; the farms also provide opportunities
for meaningful social interaction between the countries city and rural folk. By allowing each group
an opportunity to understand how the other lives, these urban farms allow South Korea to bridge
the cultural disconnect between urban and rural populations created by the countrys rapid
industrialization.

The glimpse into the life of a farmer provided by these farms also provides an opportunity to try out
a rural lifestyle and see if it fits them. Bjorn notes that there were many cases where disaffected city-
dwelling Koreans tired of the rat race discovered that farming suited them while tending to these
community farms, giving them the courage to move out of the cities and into a rural province.

Community engagement is not the only benefit urban farms can have. In the case of Detroit, a city
which has struggled with the problem of urban decay since the collapse of the American automotive
industry, urban farms have encouraged citizens to rally together and inject new life into the city,
both literally and proverbially. Utilizing the ubiquitous vacant abandoned lots in Detroit as makeshift
farming plots, urban farmers across the city have been growing crops to provide food for their
communities and to beat back urban blight. In addition to the obvious benefits like community
engagement and food, these urban farms have been shown to raise the property value of the
neighbourhoods they are in, something which Detroits government has tried, often unsuccessfully,
to do.

For Singapore, urban farms could bridge the gap between the young and the older generations.
While community gardens in Singapore have popped up all over Singapore, many of these urban
farmers tend to be retirees who grew vegetables in their youth before Singapores industrialization.
Retirees also have more time to tend to gardens, which is likely to be a reason working adults are
not often found at these community plots. Nevertheless, convincing the youth to take up urban
agriculture may not be as problematic one might expect. The demographics of Edible Garden Citys
initial customers were, to quote Bjorn, mostly trendy young hipsters. With their experience with
growing crops in a local setting, the elderly could fulfil the same role as the rural farmers in South
Korea. This is already the case at Edible Garden City; a spry fellow in his sixties reverentially referred
to as Uncle Lim provides guidance to the other farmers on Bjorns team, who are mostly in their
late twenties.
The Way Forward for Urban Farming in Singapore

The idea of an urban farm nestled amongst the buildings in Singapore is not a new concept; it just
wasnt called by that name or particularly commonplace. A few intrepid farmers have successfully
grown vegetables and spices in Styrofoam boxes along the corridors of HDB blocks before. They have
various reasons for taking up farming; some do it because they want to be certain the vegetables
they eat are pesticide-free, some grow medicinal herbs that may be hard to find, and some do it as a
form of recreation. All of them did however, go through many rounds of trial and error before they
successfully produced a harvest. With so many factors to consider for a successful harvest like
amount of sunlight received, space required, soil type and so forth, starting out can be a daunting
task for aspiring farmers. Receiving advice to shorten the trial periods and prevent frustrating
failures one key way to encouraging more people to take up urban agriculture in Singapore. To that
end, we have prepared a list of crops that can be easily grown with advice tailored for the
Singaporean environment.

*Insert Infographic Here*

When asked about the possibility of disputes with their neighbours over the common space, the
corridor farmers responded that conflicts were unlikely to happen as long as they kept their plots
neat and had an understanding with their neighbours (that understanding usually involving a few
garlic bulbs or the like as a gift). In fact, most report that their neighbours are fascinated rather than
annoyed by the makeshift Styrofoam planters taking up space in the corridors. I have experienced
this myself in Cinnamon College; my attempts to grow sweet potatoes and chives have been greeted
with oh hey, thats pretty neat! instead of whos been leaving pots all over the ledges!? The
chefs at the dining hall were also more than happy to accommodate my request to save the roots of
spring onions for planting, going as far as to present me with all manner of vegetable ends and
encouraging me to grow more.

The accommodating view towards urban farming the public currently has was not always the case
according to Bjorn. When he first founded Edible Garden City four years ago, convincing landlords
that urban farms would not be dirty, smelly and unsightly was an uphill task. General interest in
growing vegetables has also grown; from his initial customer base of environmentally-conscious
young adults, Edible Garden City now has customers from all across the spectrum, from office
workers who participated in corporate workshops to primary school children who visit his farms on
excursions (though he admits that might because anything was better than class).

Most people take an accepting and rather curious view to urban farming; the issue now is converting
that bemused interest into active participation.