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Mr Ho holding a box of microgreens. He heads Citizen Farm, a six-month-old production driven farm, which aims to reconnect the community with agriculture while building sustainable urban farming methods.

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Mr Choe and Ms Khor at the rooftop of their office building. Mr Choe says: "The organic rooftop urban farm aims to show how skyrise greenery can not only look attractive and be an enjoyable space, but it can be productive too.

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Aquaponics pond.

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Mr Chiam is a volunteer farmer at Onesimus Garden where he grows vegetables such as chye sim, kailan, okra and kangkong.

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The Mindful Marketplace showcases eco-conscious products such as Comfee's local family-run clothing store that uses only bamboo fabric and Threadapeutic, an upcycling fashion social enterprise from Jakarta.

Championing the green cause

From 'Zero Waste Runners' to green farmers, Singaporeans are finding ways to help save the environment.
May 5, 2017 5:50 AM

ON April 30, nearly 10,000 participants took part in a competitive run that took them through Gardens By The Bay, Marina Barrage and The Singapore Flyer. But this was no ordinary run. The participants were racing towards a "Zero Waste" future at the Income Eco Run.

The participants included a special group of 1,500 runners who took their commitment to the green cause to the next level by racing as "Zero Waste Runners". These runners opted not to receive their respective finishers' entitlements, such as medals for all categories and a finisher's tee for the 21.1 km Half Marathon category in a bid to reduce waste. As a result, 87.8kg of fabric and 150kg of metal were saved.

It was the first time the race introduced the option for runners to race as a "Zero Waste Runner" and it was fully subscribed before registration closed at the start of April.

All 10,000 runners were encouraged to bring their own water bottles to reduce the use of plastic bottles and paper cups. Instead of paper certificates, post-run e-certificates were given out, finisher medals were produced from recycled metal and bio-diesel fuel was used to run the generators.

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The event also readily offered sorting cans for trash to be recycled and provided bicycle racks on race day to encourage participants to cycle to the race venue. Participants were also encouraged to carpool or to take the shuttle bus services to the event.

 Marcus Chew, NTUC Income's chief marketing officer, said: "We set out to take ownership of the race this year to champion a sustainable future. We are heartened by the level of participation in this 'green' run, especially the eager subscription for the 'Zero Waste Runner' category. This shows that many of us are ready to do our part for a sustainable future." 

BT Lifestyle looks at other green warriors and initiatives in Singapore.


From city boy to urban farmer

A VISIT to a rice farm in Cambodia changed Darren Ho's life. The self-professed city boy had been working in a bank, but is now a full-time urban farmer.

"I was touring Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, and in Cambodia, I visited a friend's farm, and was amazed by what they were doing and it sparked my interest in sustainable farming," he recalls. "I started hanging out with the farmers on their rice farms."

Instead of doing touristy activities in Thailand and Malaysia, he spent his time working on farms to get hands-on experience and learnt the tricks of the trade.

Later in university, he gave up his finance course, and switched to studying natural resource management and economics at the University of Western Australia, which covered topics such as sustainable agriculture, town planning and agriculture economics.

In between his studies, he found time to start his college's first vegetable farm. Most of his classmates' families owned farms, and he spent his time working there too. "I would be helping out on the fruit, dairy and vegetable farms," he recalls.

Back in Singapore, he spent some time working at Bollywood Veggies, and later at Comcrop and Edible Garden City, both of which are urban farming companies.

Today, Mr Ho, 28, is head of partners at Citizen Farm, a six-month-old production driven farm, which aims to reconnect the community with agriculture while building sustainable urban farming methods.

Located in Queenstown, the 8,000 sq m farm has both indoor and outdoor farming. Inside the farmhouses, hydroponics is used to grow microgreens including baby argula, which Citizen Farm supplies to restaurants such as The Tippling Club and Salted and Hung.

Elsewhere on the farm, vegetables such as spinach, kale and shard are grown. "We choose to grow high value crops, rather than chye sim and kailan since other farms are already growing them," says Mr Ho.

Besides vegetables, Citizen Farm also grows mushrooms, and has the facility to rear fish, such as the jade perch. In the works is insect farming, particularly the black soldier fly.

The black soldier fly larvae play a similar role to that of redworms as essential decomposers in breaking down organic substrates and returning nutrients to the soil. The larvae are also a source of sustainable protein for aquaculture, and animal feed, and pet and human nutrition.

"We practise a closed-loop farming system, and aim to be an importer of food waste, turning waste into fertility through our insect and mushroom project, and become a net exporter of fresh, safe and affordable food," says Mr Ho.

Since Citizen Farm is a production farm, Mr Ho says, "we want to build an e-commerce platform by year-end, where we can sell our produce to consumers". Currently, the farm is only at 10 per cent of its maximum production level.

His family initially wasn't keen on Mr Ho becoming a farmer, but are now fully supportive after seeing what he has done.

With Citizen Farm, Mr Ho hopes to show that urban farming is possible despite the common refrain that there is no land to farm in Singapore. "It is possible to grow vegetables in office buildings at night if a system is put in place," he suggests, adding that urban farming should be for everyone.

For now, Citizen Farm is testing out farming at an unutilised spot under West Coast Viaduct. There, containers have been set up to grow microgreens and mushroom.

Mr Ho says life as an urban farmer is "meaningful. After all, farming produces food that everyone requires".


Even the roof sprouts greenery

ARCHITECTURE firm Woha is no stranger to skyrise greenery. Public housing SkyVille@Dawson and hotels Parkroyal on Pickering and Oasia Hotel Downtown all have lots of greenery. Even its office on Hong Kong Street is filled with greens, such as potted plants along the windows and a vertical garden in the middle of the office.

Even the rooftop has not been spared. Over the last two years, a group of about 20 staff have been working hard to create a rooftop farm.

Architectural designer Jonathan Choe says: "The organic rooftop urban farm aims to show how skyrise greenery can not only look attractive and be an enjoyable space, but it can be productive too."

Mr Choe heads the firm's farming club and he and his colleagues spend Friday afternoons tending to their urban farm.

Over 100 species of edible plants thrive on the rooftop farm, including herbs such as mint and dill, and vegetables such as water chestnut, sweet potato, bitter gourd, and fruits such as passionfruit, bananas, grapes and even strawberries.

The edible plants are grown in fibreglass planters, loose pots, on trellises and within an aquaponics system, all of which are watered via auto-irrigation.

The 200 sq m rooftop farm is divided into two sections. The front is a productive showcase farm garden where staff can sit and chill among the greenery with butterflies and sunbirds, together with a pond filled with tilapia fish and consumable water plants.

The space at the back is used for planting activities, such as potting and propagation, and experiments with different urban farming systems. There are plans to cover this area with a netting so that creeping vines can be grown.

A highlight of the farm is the aquaponics system, which consists of the tilapia fish pond and a sloped planter bed. Water containing fish waste is pumped from the pond into the sloped planter bed, where it is cleaned and filtered by the plants and vegetables growing within and returned by gravity to the fish pond through custom stainless steel water spouts.

"Tilapia fish are hardy, and they grow fast. Our tilapia can be eaten, but we haven't decided if we will do that eventually," quips Mr Choe.

Organic waste produced by the office is collected and composted in both compost aerating tumblers and a warm composting system. Fresh compost and worm castings are then used to return nutrients to the soil.

In addition, there is large tank on the rooftop to collect rainwater, which is filtered and then used to water the plants. Mr Choe says that the rainwater collection tank has enough water for two weeks. The office has also installed solar panels on the rooftop and while the solar power generated is not needed for farming, it supplies around 7 per cent of the power consumed by the office.

Fellow colleague Serena Khor finds it therapeutic to come up to the farm whenever things get too stressful at work.

The fruits of their labour are shared with everyone in the office. "We have colleagues who cook in the office, and often they come up here to snip some vegetables to add to their cooking," she says.

Mr Choe says the challenge was finding the right plants to grow, as some plants do not grow well in a tropical environment.

At the same time, he is surprised to see how hardy some plants are. "I thought some of the plants would be affected on days when there is a thunderstorm, but they still turned out fine," he says.

There are plans to explore the potential of raising chickens and quails in an urban rooftop environment. "If successful, it will improve food security, through integrating skyrise greenery with farming," says Mr Choe.


Back to his roots

CHIAM Yiak Joo, 54, recalls his childhood days growing up on a farm in Mandai, which belonged to his grandparents and was passed down to his parents.

"We reared chickens, pigs and ducks, and grew vegetables and had fruit trees," Mr Chiam says fondly. The family had to give up farming in 1990, when the government acquired the land. "Until today, the land has not been used," says Mr Chiam wistfully.

Mr Chiam spent about 20 years as an IT professional in the research and development, human resource, payroll and semiconductor industries. But the thought of becoming a farmer never left his mind.

Four years ago, he left the corporate world and took a break to spend time with his family, cycling and fishing. "I spent time appreciating life," he says. It was also during this time that he and his wife, a teacher, had the chance to do farming on a small plot of land in Kranji.

There, they experimented with chemical-free farming. "We didn't use any pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilisers," he says. They grew a variety of vegetables such as lettuce and nai bai, which he distributed to close friends and family.

Today, Mr Chiam is a volunteer farmer at Onesimus Garden on Neo Tiew Road. The Onesimus Garden is a 3.4 hectare plot of land dedicated to the mission of the Onesimus Ministry, which aims to transform lives and touch communities through the use of farm restorative therapy. Mr Chiam is not a member of the ministry.

He has two plots of land in the garden, where he grows vegetables that include chye sim, kailan, okra, kangkong, cucumber, wintermelon and a variety of herbs. His vegetables are grown in soil.

Since he practises chemical-free farming, Mr Chiam uses neem oil and vinegar to get rid of pests. Sparrows occasionally help eat the worms on his land. The soil is fertilised with chicken poop which he buys from a nearby farm.

He is at the farm every day, from around 8am to 6pm. Together with two workers, they harvest the vegetables daily from noon to 4pm. He sells them at S$3 a packet, and has about 100 regular customers. Mr Chiam personally delivers the vegetables to them.

Asked why they prefer his vegetables over those from the supermarket, Mr Chiam shrugs his shoulders. "They don't tell me why they like mine, but they give feedback, when the vegetables look less than perfect," he says with a laugh. "But I guess they must like it, since they would tell their friends about my produce."

He is not content with just growing vegetables and selling them. "I hope to teach people how to grow vegetables in pots or trays, so that they can grow their own food," he says. He hopes to work with schools to help spread the message about being self-sufficient, even if the amount is small.

His wife helps him out on the farm on weekends. His five children, aged 11 to 23, think that their "father is crazy for being a farmer", says Mr Chiam. "But two of them have said that if I'm successful, they would want to follow in my footsteps."

To purchase vegetables from Mr Chiam, contact him at 9856 1829.


Buying into eco-conscious retail

WANT to do your part of the environment but don't know where to start? How about spending the weekend at Green Is The New Black (GITNB): The Conscious Festival?

Now in its third year, and the first festival of its kind, GITNB is a "conscious" festival for people who want to improve the way they think, work and consume while doing more good in the world. Put simply, this is the place where fun meets social environmental responsibility.

Stephanie Dickson, founder of GITNB, says: "Living more consciously is really about living wide awake - understanding how your decisions affect not only you, but also your surroundings and the environment. If everyone of us were a little more conscious in a few aspects of our lives, we would be happier, healthier and lessen the burden on the planet."

At the two-day event, visitors can shop at the Mindful Marketplace and take part in a clothes swap.

For example, shoppers can buy men's shirts from Comfee, a family-run clothing factory in Singapore that uses only bamboo fabric, and from Threadapeutic, an upcycling fashion social enterprise from Jakarta, where the products are made from raw, leftover materials from the garment industry's fabric wastes.

GITNB will also show participants how they can practise conscious eating and consumption. For example, vendor Gain Brands will be selling gluten-free craft beers, touted as a healthier and more ethical alternative to regular beer.

There will also be talks by experts on how participants can be more eco-conscious. For this third edition,there are over 100 regional change makers, over 40 speakers and Ms Dickson hopes to have over 2,000 people attend.

This year, GITNB have co-branded the event to encompass two festivals in one, partnering with SPARK, Asia's first festival that celebrates love, intimacy and relationships. SPARK aims to promote healthy, happy and fulfilling connections with oneself and another.

Ms Dickson says that after two years of GITNB, "we have seen the thirst for knowledge on conscious living and sustainability expanding Singapore-wide. It is really inspiring and validating to see this growing interest and demand across everything from well-being to sustainability, to provenance - to see people questioning where our products come from and who is affected along the way."

  • Green is the New Black is on May 12, from 5pm to 10pm, and May 13, from 10am to 6pm, at Equarius Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa. Free entry to the festival. Tickets required for access to talks, from US$75, at http://GITNBxSPARK2017.peatix.com
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