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Down To Earth Heroes
ENG TING TING
CO-FOUNDER OF POCKET GREENS
The daughter of orchid farmers, Eng Ting Ting fondly remembers growing up in Lim Chu Kang, when farm-to-table wasn't a trendy concept but the reality of eating vegetables grown in their own backyard.
Now 52, she doesn't live there anymore but she's still doing her own farming on her balcony, with her crop of micro greens and assorted herbs such as thyme, oregano and basil.
Singapore may import 90 per cent of its food, but Ms Eng feels that Singaporeans can still do their bit to grow their own greens. "When you grow your own vegetables, you know what goes into it," she explains.
It's unlikely that Singaporeans can be totally self-sustainable by growing their own food, but it's a good way to reduce each person's carbon footprint.
In 2009, Ms Eng, managing director of a shipping container firm, started Easi Garden, supplying gardening kits to schools. "Most kids don't know where plants and vegetables come from, so they learn how to grow their own," she explains.
Each kit comes in a reusable plastic container, with growing medium and seeds, such as kang kong and chye sim.
Feedback was good enough to inspire Ms Eng to tackle a broader challenge of turning urban spaces into edible pockets of green, hence the name of her next venture, Pocket Greens. She works with schools and restaurants to start edible gardens in unused spaces, such as rooftops.
Pocket Greens also has its own vertical vegetable farm at Bukit Panjang Hill, called Urban Farm and Barn. For S$50 a month, anyone can rent 20 trays of compost to grow their own vegetables. The trays are fitted onto racks, and there is no worry of vegetables drying out, as watering is done automatically. There are no chemicals used as all the nutrients come from the seeds. Microgreens such as rocket, swiss chard and red romaines are ready to harvest in just 10 days.
Ms Eng's latest venture is The Travelling Farm (TTF), which brings her farm to more Singaporeans. TTF is now at Raffles Place Park for three months, and will move to Dhoby Ghaut Green later this year.
At TTF, visitors can watch short videos on express gardening, attend workshops and pick up gardening tips from an in-house expert. As Ms Eng is in the business of handling shipping containers, TTF is fashioned from a recycled shipping container and painted an eye-catching yellow. The benches are made from recycled wood, from trees along the roadside that have been chopped down.
"My aim is to make the farm-to-table concept accessible to everyone," says Ms Eng. "I want to make growing vegetables in an urban landscape a norm."
ADRIAN CHIA, DAVE NG, JEFF YEO
FOUNDERS OF BIG TINY
As fathers with young children, Adrian Chia, Dave Ng and Jeff Yeo feel a pressing need to leave behind a planet that's safe for them to live in.
"We have to be eco-conscious so that not only we, but our future generations still have a place to call home, no matter where we are on Earth," says Mr Yeo, who has two kids aged six and eight, and is expecting a baby in April.
In turn, Mr Chia has three kids aged one to six, while Mr Ng's four children range from newborn to 12. The three men are all founders of Big Tiny, the first company in Singapore to pioneer the integration of the 'tiny house' movement with eco-tourism.
At home, Mr Chia tries to cultivate the eco-conscious mindset in his kids. The family uses its own grocery bags, and buys refill packs for shower gels and detergent instead of buying new bottles. "We try to reduce our use of plastics, and keep a bin for recycling at home, and my sons will empty it into the recycling station regularly," he says.
Similarly, Mr Yeo also doesn't take plastic bags when he is shopping, and he separates his rubbish into general waste and recyclables. If he entertains at home, he uses biodegradable plates and cutlery.
Mr Yeo and Mr Chia say they only became more eco-conscious in recent years after seeing the impact of global warming and the amount of waste that is generated.
Meanwhile, Mr Ng, who was previously in the waste management industry, is not one to shop on impulse. Rather than cash in on the latest gadgets, he uses his mobile phone, laptop and TV till they are on their last legs. He also only buys things made from recyclable or sustainable materials. Besides educating his kids on being green, he has also given talks to polytechnic students on the topic.
The trio, all aged 37, have adopted a green mindset in their business. "Being eco-conscious is always easier to start at a personal level," says Mr Chia. When they started Big Tiny, it stemmed from a desire to offer the city dweller a chance to escape from a hectic, digitally-laden lifestyle. But they also wanted to bring the concept of being green to as many people as possible on a company level.
Hence, the move to integrate the concept of "tiny houses" with eco-tourism.
There are no definite measurements that qualifies a tiny house - however any residential structure under 46 sqm is generally considered as one.
Big Tiny currently offers houses of two sizes: Reyes, which is 14.96 sqm in size, and Mel, which is 17.28 sqm, including a 5.76 sqm loft. Each house comes with bedroom space for a queen-sized bed-cum-sofa, fully fitted kitchen with microwave oven and mini fridge and a bathroom with a shower and toilet.
Mr Chia explains that the tiny house concept is a green ideology in itself. "Tiny houses are part of an international trend of simplifying lives by reducing the size, and therefore the resource consumption of homes without sacrificing quality of life," he says. The houses may be tiny, but with the use of floor to ceiling windows for maximum natural light penetration and multi-functional fittings, there is maximisation of comfort in a small space.
Big Tiny houses are also designed to be eco-friendly, with solar panels harvesting energy, a rainwater collection system, and a composting toilet, where the waste collected is treated, to be used as fertiliser. Big Tiny houses are also fitted with refurbished doors.
The houses, which are on wheels, are parked in rural settings such as on farmland or in vineyards. Currently there is one house at Mowbray Park Farm, an hour's drive from Sydney, and another in Tallarook, an hour's drive from Melbourne. There will be another three Big Tiny houses in Sydney and Melbourne by the end of March.
The houses are listed on Airbnb and Booking.com, and are priced from S$250 a night.
"Big Tiny amplifies the benefits of the "tiny house" movement by pairing a thoughtfully efficient abode and an intimate connection with Mother Nature," says Mr Chia.
SIEW PEI YING
PUBLIC RELATIONS CONSULTANT
If you ever eat out with Siew Pei Ying and sip on your drink with a straw instead of drinking from the glass, you risk getting the evil eye from her. The environmentally-conscious PR consultant is dead set against single-use plastics, and is on a mission to stop people from using them.
"I try to reduce my carbon footprint as well, but my focus is mainly on reducing plastic waste," she says.
She still uses some plastic items, such as BPA-free plastic water bottles, but is against non-reusable plastics, which include straws, plastic bags, takeaway containers and disposable cutlery.
Ms Siew, 30, was spurred into action after watching the documentaries Before the Flood, and A Plastic Ocean. She was horrified at the amount of plastic waste in the ocean and how it was adversely affecting the entire ecosystem.
"I was so depressed that I cut out as much single-use plastic as possible from my life overnight," she says, which is why she also feels anyone can follow in her footsteps. "Just make a decision and stick to it."
At work, she left Post-It notes around the pantry to remind her colleagues to skip drinking bottled water and to stop using disposable cutlery. Her office stocked bottled water even though there is a water dispenser and glasses for use, and a cleaner washes up after.
Wanting to do more, she gave a townhall talk at her premium spirits brand company, Beam Suntory, on the topic. The feedback was positive and she was moved when colleagues that she didn't work with went up to her directly to thank her for sharing and changing their views.
She has since convinced some friends, family and colleagues to go the eco-route. "It feels good when people text me about the little things they've done to use less plastic," she says, such as switching to portable reusable cutlery, using a metal straw for bubble tea, and not using small disposable saucers at the hawker centre. Ms Siew says she can count on one hand the number of times she used disposable plastic ware. When she bought yusheng salad which was packed in plastic containers from a supermarket during Chinese New Year, her mother washed and re-used them.
When she's thirsty, she drinks water from a glass. She brings a tote bag for grocery shopping and once, when she forgot, "I walked home with a bunch of leeks and a head of broccoli in my hands", she says.
Instead of disposing of the plastic packaging from rice or vegetables, she uses them as bin liners. She used to avoid stalls which use disposable cutlery, now she just carries her own, and uses a tingkat for takeaway food.
Her good intentions are not always appreciated. "When I tell people not to use straws, I get shut down a lot. Or people would just pay lip service, but you can tell from the tone of their voice that they don't really mean it," she says.
An increasing number of countries worldwide are recognising the damage that single-use plastics wreak on our environment and are banning single-use plastics. "There is no reason Singapore cannot step up and make this change. In fact, we should act quickly, knowing how susceptible we are to the effects of climate change as a tiny island nation," adds Ms Siew.
She hopes the government will implement policies to drastically reduce plastic waste. She is encouraged by its commitment to reducing carbon emissions, diversifying Singapore's water supply and enhancing food security, but "these are things that most citizens cannot contribute to or make a change to in their daily lives", she says. "But reducing the use of single-use plastics is something everyone can do immediately and have a significant impact."