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Singapore shows what serious urban farming looks like

From what was once Singapore’s largest prison complex, an 8,000 square meter urban farm, Edible Garden City (EGC), now bursts with colorful vegetables and fragrant herbs. Co-founded by local resident Bjorn Low in 2012, EGC is one of Singapore’s first urban farming initiatives and is located inside the former prison compound. It is one of several efforts in the city-state to strengthen the island’s food security at a grassroots level. “Our goal was and is to encourage more locals to grow their own food and thus help strengthen the city’s food resilience,” says Sarah Rodriguez, EGC’s head of marketing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how susceptible countries are to turmoil in the global food supply. This is an issue of particular concern to Singapore, which imports almost 90 percent of its food from more than 170 countries. For several years now, the city authorities have been preparing for just such a crisis. The Singapore Food Authority (SFA) launched its ambitious “30 by 30” initiative in 2019, with the objective of producing 30 percent of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by the year 2030. Supported by a mix of government grants and incentives, 30 by 30 will test the limits of urban food production. At last count in 2019, the city had 220 farms, and was meeting 14 percent of its demand for leafy vegetables, 26 percent for eggs and 10 percent for fish.

EGC, which has designed and built over 260 small produce farms for restaurants, hotels, schools and residences in Singapore, also experienced an increased interest in their foodscaping service. “Our foodscaping team saw a 40 percent increase in inquiries from homeowners between April and June last year,” says Rodriguez. Currently, EGC also grows kale and chard using hydroponics and microgreens in soil, all of it in a climate-controlled, indoor environment. “We strongly believe that there should be a balance between agritech and natural farming,” says Rodriguez. “We prefer to focus on the wide variety of veggies that grow well in our climate.”

EGC’s focus on natural farming is shared by the Foodscape Collective. It’s co-founder Pui had the opportunity to start a community edible garden in 2013, along with her neighbors. More recently, at the invitation of the National Parks Board and The Winstedt School, the Foodscape Collective, together with the local community, is transforming land in two locations using permaculture techniques. “These gardens are multi-functional spaces, to grow edibles, to grow plants for biodiversity, to nature watch, to enhance the soil ecosystem by composting food scraps, or simply just spaces to relax in a busy city,” says Pui.

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