Getting Our Grow On In Singapore
March 2021 marked a new chapter in our journey to teach, accompany and empower urban dwellers to grow their own food. We officially launched the Farmcity Store in Singapore, and I couldn’t be more proud. This is just the start of course, and there is much more work ahead of us as we embark on the Singaporean chapter of Farmcity.
It’s been quite the journey getting here. In 2016, we founded Farmcity because we wanted to enable equal access to healthy food for everybody. Everyone thought we were crazy to give up everything we know to go into a field we knew nothing about (we wrote about that here). We did so anyway, and in spite of the many pitfalls, remained doggedly determined to make the global food system more equitable, one city at a time. We started off as vegetable farmers, teaching ourselves to grow over 21 varieties of organic vegetables, fruits and herbs. We quickly realized that the most impactful way would be to teach others how to do so. So we developed programs for children and youths, then adults and corporates; using the revenue generated from these programs to subsidise our cost of production so we could continue selling our organic, nutrient-dense vegetables at an affordable price for the communities around us. Most importantly, our programs enabled us to use organic agriculture as a tool to increase awareness about protecting biodiversity and eating well; achieving food equity and food resilience in an ever changing climate.
While we started off in Mauritius, a tiny island on the Indian Ocean, it was always my dream to bring Farmcity back to my forever home — Singapore. We were finally able to do so late last year, when Covid-19 forced our hand and we found ourselves stranded in Singapore, caught out by covid border closures. During the first 3 months of basically hanging in limbo and awaiting borders to reopen, we began sharing our knowledge with urban farming enthusiasts. (You can take the farmers out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of them!) An impromptu class for toddlers conducted on the balcony of our host family, turned into another hands-on workshop along a HDB corridor for other children. We also helped someone turn her ornamental garden into an edible one, and even conducted a webinar for ‘Work From Home’ Folks adjusting to the new normal.
We learnt many things through these early interactions. Singaporeans lamented their ‘lack of green fingers’, and expressed their disbelief that a thriving vegetable garden can be cultivated in their balcony. We were regaled with numerous horror stories of community garden politics. So we started asking ourselves — what if we could empower urban dwellers to grow their own food using the space they already had?
Making It Easy To Grow
One of the first things we did was to create a series of grow kits, designed so the urban dweller has everything they need to get started growing vegetables in small spaces. They are reliable and contain all the ingredients that we use on the farm ourselves. We made them in ‘apartment-sized’ quantities, and in concentrates so growers only used what they needed, when they needed, and we kept waste out of the landfills. We also made sure our packaging was as sustainable as possible — single colour cardboard boxes printed with water based inks so they can be shredded and composted, glass bottles that can be refilled; where we couldn’t avoid the use of plastic, we made sure they were sturdy enough to be reused over and over again.
Making It Easy To Learn
We knew grow kits alone weren’t enough. Our early users showed us that accompaniment made a big difference in their confidence and ability to grow their own food. While grow kits aren’t exactly new on the market, grow kits accompanied by short, engaging videos that taught urban growers how to start in a methodical way certainly was! Especially in Singapore where we have lost our agricultural knowledge, having clear, concise instructions for each step of the grow journey did wonders for their proverbial green thumbs to appear. So we turned our bite-sized advice into short videos, enabling growers to simply tap and learn. We are adding new content regularly, as we address the most common challenges through short videos.
Beyond our grow kits and our videos, we are laying the groundwork for a bigger platform that will truly empower urban communities to grow their own food at home. Little by little, we will enable home growers ,micro farmers, green entrepreneurs and farming enthusiasts, to connect and share their knowledge and interact in new and different ways. We will enable people to own their communities, because magic certainly happens when they do, and that magic is the kampung spirit we reminisce so much about.
Tall order? Most certainly; but definitely not impossible. This is only the beginning, so watch this space for more updates from Farmcity!
Farmcity envisions a resilience garden in every home. Founded by Singaporean, Kelly Ann Yeo, and her Mauritian husband, Wesley Oxenham, they are currently building a marketplace for home gardening, no green thumbs needed. Their work was most recently featured on CNN International’s Going Green, NUS Enterprise and L’Express Mauritius. They are also recipients of the 2019 EBay Global Give Award, and voted “Most Effective Organization” by international nonprofit GlobalGiving.