AsianScientist (Feb. 5, 2020) – Home to more than half of the world’s urban population, Asia is already beginning to feel the strain of rapid modernization. The expansion of cities takes a toll on the environment, and so does the provision of food for burgeoning populations—food production accounts for 30 percent of greenhouse gases generated globally.
New models for sustainable urbanization and food security are sorely needed, and countries may have found an answer in urban farming, the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around urban areas. Mr. Bjorn Low, the managing director and co-founder of social enterprise Edible Garden City, is a pioneer of urban farming in Singapore.
Returning to Singapore in 2012 after pursuing a diploma in agriculture in the UK, Low was confronted with the reality of a land-scarce nation and a populace that placed little emphasis on farming. Undaunted, Low took it upon himself to promote urban agriculture in the city state.
“Edible Garden City was founded as a platform for like-minded people to come together to drive the urban farming movement,” Low said. “Today, we are a team of 40 full-timers and volunteers coming together to provide urban food production solutions for corporate offices, restaurants and schools.”
With a keen focus on sustainability, Edible Garden City has created a farming system that takes in food waste and converts that into organic fertiliser that is fed back into the food production system. Low calls this a closed loop urban farming system that generates minimal waste, echoing the principles of a circular economy, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible and regenerated or upcycled to extend their lifespan.
Low’s vision for urban farming is one that is not only sustainable, but also inclusive. Among his collective of farmers are persons with disabilities who contribute to the farms and help advocate for urban farming.
“One of the big shifts for us in the next five to 10 years is to really look at how to bring
out the intangible values of the urban farms. So farms are not just about food production, we want to use the farms as spaces to provide care to the community,” Low explained.
“We have, over the last few years, done a series of studies together with the Center for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE), Singapore, to look at the value of horticultural therapy for pre-dementia patients,” he added.
Horticultural therapy involves plants and gardening activities guided by trained professionals to maximize the benefits of engaging with nature. Highlighting a study conducted with CUGE in 2019, Low noted that the benefits of horticultural therapy are measurable and significant.
In the study, 59 older adults were randomly divided into two groups: one group receiving horticultural therapy and a control group. The researchers took blood samples from the study subjects for profiling of their immune cells, and assessed each individual’s mental health, social status and functional capacity within the community. They reported that levels of a protein called interleukin 6 (IL-6) were reduced in the group receiving horticultural therapy.
“IL-6 contributes to inflammation of the body, and that causes dementia, arthritis, cancer and other conditions,” Low said. Horticultural therapy may therefore hold benefits for patients suffering from those diseases.
“In addition, we have just started a small garden at the National Cancer Center, Singapore, where we’re not just carrying out horticulture therapy, but also identifying a handful of local herbs that possibly have anticancer properties,” he added.
The nutritional density of plants grown indoors in vertical farms (versus those grown outdoors under natural sunlight) is also something that Low is keen on investigating, and he is in talks with the National University of Singapore to initiate such studies.
“I think we need diversity in farming systems, which then means that you can’t have everything indoors in vertical farms and using hydroponics. There still needs to be outdoor farms, rooftop farms and plants grown in soil,” Low said. “Technology is important, but it is not a silver bullet,” he quipped.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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