Benjamin Neo of Edible Garden City and Chef Leon from PARKROYAL Collection at Marina Bay
When we say “farming”, you’d be forgiven for thinking about large tractors roaming wide open acres. But for Edible Garden City (EGC), farming takes place on the rooftops of malls, inside schools and offices, and outside restaurants. Urban spaces become the pastures for diverse fruits and vegetables to grow. These are not just your typical supermarket varieties though; they include many native and lesser-known produce. The visually-diverse flora and fauna paint a vibrant landscape in our concrete jungle.
Against the city skyline is the garden at PARKROYAL COLLECTION at Marina Bay, which produces fresh herbs and vegetables for the hotel’s restaurants, bar, and spa. Just footsteps away from Peppermint, the hotel’s restaurant, Chef Leon picks ingredients from the farm every morning and brings them back to his kitchen—truly farm-to-table! We also learn from Sarah, Head of Marketing at EGC, and Ben, a farmer, what the future of urban farming is like for Singapore.
What’s the design process of a farm? For example, how do you select the produce and create a layout that is sustainable yet yields well?
We start by understanding the space; for example, looking at where the sun comes from and checking the soil condition. And from meeting our clients, we gather what they need in terms of accessibility, types of produce and their uses. From there, we design the space and suggest plant types. After building the garden, we continue to partner with our clients in farm maintenance and growing new varieties.
What are some ways F&B businesses can engage in sustainable practices?
Building an onsite edible garden is great; it strengthens the farm-to-table element, reduces carbon footprint (harvested mere footsteps away), and allows chefs to try different local varieties that are not commonly-found otherwise. It also gives customers an interesting spot to enjoy before or after their meals. If that is not feasible, we encourage buying from local farmers, or using produce that is local. The key is to understand the impact of each purchase. Other everyday practices such as providing non-plastic takeaway containers can promote sustainability within consumers.
What are some unique techniques used or plants grown in your farms?
We balance agritech and natural farming, and champion natural farming methods.
Care farming is one of our main focuses for the next few years. We try to grow a myriad of plants that are visually diverse and interesting.
How does permaculture in Singapore help with our food security and sustainability?
Growing food as naturally as we can in Singapore heals the environment and is an innovative way we can achieve food resilience in the long run. Nature has sustained us for thousands of years and it’s easy to forget that! Urban farming reminds us to appreciate nature and how it feeds us.
How has the urban farming landscape changed over the years and where do you see it progressing?
Many Singaporeans are now getting interested in urban farming, and understand its importance in helping us achieve food resilience. More chefs, home cooks, corporations, and schools are supporting the idea. Everyone is focused on reaching the 30 by 30 goal—to produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030.
What do you appreciate most about working with PARKROYAL COLLECTION Marina Bay?
We enjoy collaborating wth the chefs and kitchen staff to grow interesting varieties that their restaurants and spas can use. Farmers like us rely on chefs to promote different produce and make food relatable to Singaporeans. We have a great relationship with the chefs and kitchen staff—they trust us to grow food for them, and we try to grow different interesting varieties for them. Farmers like us (particularly those who grow varieties that are not so familiar) rely a lot on chefs to make our food accessible and relatable to Singaporeans. The PARKROYAL team provides lots of valuable information to help us build the farm. They use the harvest in such innovative ways, across their restaurants, bar, and spa. It inspires us to support them and other organisations more holistically through new sustainability and farming programmes.
Can you tell us a bit more about therapeutic horticulture? How you would like to explore this?
We want to help advance the urban farming industry beyond just looking at food production, to also exploring its beneficial impact on healthcare, mental health, physical well-being, and community bonds through therapeutic horticulture.
We’ve been working with schools and welfare centres, such as dementia care centres and halfway houses. By building gardens designed according to their users’ needs, we’re able to teach gardening skills with therapy elements incorporated. For example, having programmes to train fine motor skills using secateurs for harvesting as well as training the centre staff to continue therapeutic activities without EGC.
Apart from the therapeutic horticulture, is there anything else that EGC would like to explore in the near future? Perhaps other forms of collaborations or farming techniques?
We’re promoting heritage and endemic varieties (e.g. sayur manis and ulam raja) that can be grown easily in our climate. There are many native and heritage plants that are specific to Singapore that have been around for a long time. Many of these also taste great and have medicinal value. By collaborating with chefs who use these varieties creatively and deliciously, we can promote these lesser-known foods and celebrate our plant diversity.
What are your hopes for urban farming in Singapore?
That as a nation, we don’t think of urban farming as just a means of food production. Urban farming has incredible potential for social good, such as inclusive employment and healthcare. Above all, for us to continue farming naturally where possible, in order to help heal our planet!
This series was produced with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board’s SG Stories Content Fund Season 2.