Food scarcity is a dire concern for Singapore, a city-state that imports 90% of its food. In 2019, the government announced the “30 by 30” initiative: 30% of food produced locally by 2030. A surge of top-down investment has been going into centralised agricultural production, and high-tech farming approaches, ie. hydroponics, aquaponics, LED farming. With local farms relying heavily on migrant workers, many today are disconnected from food production. Few reflect on food origins and growing methods.
Can a revolution grow from our gardens?
Social enterprise Edible Garden City (EGC) co-founder Bjorn Low highlights several channels for citizen participation:
Subscription-based farm delivery as tangible education: EGC’s Citizen Box delivers a wide-variety of naturally-grown produce, educational inserts about critical issues in agriculture, urban farming philosophies and farm operations. Instead of simply serving people what they prefer to eat, the aim is to get them acquainted with what’s beneficial for the land – even if its vegetables with holes in their leaves.
“Edible garden”, from consumer product to community empowerment: Edible gardens in offices and homes can be a passive consumer product. EGC strengthens engagement with customised educational activities, grooming of “urban farming champions” in the organisation, and restaurant collaborations that provided chefs access to local produce and knowledge.
Refreshing the ecosystem with volunteers: Bjorn found that working with volunteers was a source of encouragement for farm employees as much as it was a learning experience for volunteers. The movement grew when volunteers used their experience as a springboard for their own endeavors, such as writing a book on natural farming principles and setting up an eco-village in Malaysia.
Social employment as a platform for inclusivity: Part-time farming work for elderly and differently-abled communities improved emotional well-being by improving social connectivity and access to local vegetables. EGC learnt that prioritising social employment meant working around employees’ constraints and highlighting their strengths.
Pop-up gardens to grow partnerships: Lacking permanent headquarters in its first five years, EGC existed in different sites across Singapore, bringing gardening knowledge to different communities. They experimented with different business models for small-scale vegetable production and occupied underutilised spaces such as rooftop car parks. The effort to stay financially sustainable was buttressed with partnerships, on the ground and in institutions.
Foodscaping, call-to-action decor: “For urban farms to be incorporated into our daily landscape, they have to be aesthetically pleasing and fit into most spaces and types of usage. Food forests will blur the lines between the modern urban landscape and nature. People will learn that different types of greenery with different functions can exist in the city, and that food doesn't have to be grown in large farming facilities out of the city, food can be grown on skyscrapers.”
Rooftop gardens in downtown malls provide produce for nearby restaurants.
Preschool children learning about edible gardens at Hort Park, Singapore.