AsianScientist (Jul. 30, 2021) – In Singapore, space is a luxury. With less than one percent of its total land mass allotted to agricultural farming, the nation is almost completely reliant on food imports to meet its nutritional needs.
This has left Singapore’s food security in the hands of global production networks. When COVID-19 struck, for example, supply chain disruptions and sudden closures led to an oversupply of fresh produce that could not enter local markets. For overseas farmers, much of their harvest rotted away, while products on shelves saw price hikes of 40 to 50 percent.
To bolster its local food production, Singapore is turning to frontier technologies like gene editing and has been converting industrial sites into urban farming spaces. However, distance still separates the end consumers from the root of the source, shared Mr. Chee Zhi Kin, co-founder of social enterprise City Sprouts.
“It’s not a very common experience to be able to witness how food is grown,” said Chee. “People on the ground might not really appreciate and fully understand where this whole ship is going.”
Given this disconnect, the City Sprouts team is taking a novel approach to food sustainability—one driven by community and relationship-building. Chee shared that their initiatives combine knowledge sharing with hands-on farming experiences to green up Singapore’s highly urbanized landscape.
At Sprout Hub, City Sprouts’ food social hub, an array of greenhouses are built within a remodeled secondary school campus. By pioneering an allotment model, Chee and the team divided the site into adequately sized agricultural plots, capable of supporting 300 to 400 tenants in total.
Through this plot sharing system, the hub is a place where hobbyists and farmers alike can converge and grow their own food. City Sprouts is also actively collaborating with the food and beverage industry to potentially source produce from these local growers.
According to Chee, aspiring farmers also use Sprout Hub to test out their agricultural methods before commercialization. Since proof of concept is needed to earn a farm license, the hub serves as a platform for trialing various strategies until the farmers can devise a system that works best for them.
Chee revealed that proving the viability of their approach has been a challenge. After all, they are going against the tide of tech-driven, yield-focused systems, where artificial intelligence and precisely controlled indoor conditions have become the standard for maximizing crop production.
But alternative ways of farming like City Sprouts’ community-centric model are equally important for food sustainability. Without understanding where food is sourced, consumers may be less conscious about wastage, which Chee believes defeats the whole purpose of moving food production to high-yield urban systems.
“The part that City Sprouts plays is to get people to relook at that relationship and to question and challenge themselves—to see how they can take individual or collective action to be part of the movement,” he explained.
As part of their educational initiatives, Sprout Hub hosts tours for the public to engage with farmers. This helps sow a deeper understanding of agricultural practices and the journey that it takes to deliver food from farm to table, shared Chee.
Beyond the hub, their Sprouting About project involves conducting workshops on terrarium-making, fostering an appreciation for green spaces and sustainable living. Green fingers or not, individuals and organizations are becoming more involved in urban agriculture.
By breathing life into once forgotten spaces, City Sprouts fulfills a dual purpose of rejuvenating underutilized urban areas while restoring humans’ ruptured relationship with nature. Moreover, Chee and the team are on the lookout for further sites that they can transform into an urban farm, fine-tuning their allotment model to make the most of Singapore’s space.
No longer limited to industry players, the food sustainability movement is sprouting from the ground up, with school-age children attending tours and seniors at the daycare center surrounding the hub. Through these efforts, Chee envisions empowering communities to not only witness but experience food production in shared urban spaces.
“One of our goals is to extend our reach to these beneficiaries to see how we can bring the residents into our space,” he concluded. “We hope to be the leading provider for intergenerational activities that are driven toward agriculture.”
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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