(Originally published on SFA Facebook)
Contributing to Singapore’s Food Security
Yuan Hao previously worked in the logistics industry as a business development manager for five years before leaving to start Vegeponics.
“I like to see things grow – veggies, fish, etc. More importantly, I believe that Singapore should be self-sufficient in food production, to a certain degree. We are at a phase where we can help contribute to Singapore’s food security and it’s exciting to be in the thick of action.”
His journey on urban farming officially began in June last year when he received his farm licence from the former Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA). Yuan Hao clearly remembers that day, as it was the day of the Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore.
Since then, he has made a number of changes to his original operations, including finding a new partner, who shares his vision of growing the company.
Trial and Error
When asked if he sees himself as a farmer or agri-specialist, Yuan Hao said ‘urban farmer’ without skipping a beat.
“To be an agri-specialist, you need to know the science aspect of growing veggies very well. I’m not a farmer by training, so I rely a lot on trial and error at first.”
“For example, yellow leaves in veggies. We’re not sure what went wrong but going by instinct, let’s try tweaking the light intensity. Doesn’t work? Adjust the nutrients mix. This goes on until we have the perfect vegetable.”
Yuan Hao feels research and development (R&D) is necessary to increase productivity and yield. He’s in talks with Institutes of Higher learning in Singapore to do R&D at their laboratories.
Attracting Young Talent
Despite growing interest in Singapore, the younger population still shies away from a career in the agriculture industry.
“Young people nowadays are made for easier work. If they see our indoor farm, complete with air condition and a lab environment, they could be more receptive to the idea of an urban farmer.”
The flexibility of a farmer’s schedule may also attract them, he added. Yuan Hao’s day starts at 5am to deliver vegetables to wet markets, followed by seeding, potting, and harvesting of veggies. It winds down after 2pm when he checks emails and does administrative work.
And for those who detest sitting at a desk all day, they will be happy to learn that farming requires a fair bit of walking around and talking to people.
“Delivering the veggies ourselves is not about cutting cost. It’s about chatting with wet market stall owners and understanding the market demand: How’s my veggies? Are they fresh? Can we improve? Through these interactions, I’m learning every day.”
Selling Kale to Aunties & Uncles
Every businessman knows the importance of word-of-mouth.
“We started delivering our kale and lettuce to over 20 wet markets last month. If your products are good, they spread the word to other stalls and customers.”
He also revealed that contrary to what most people think, aunties and uncles actually know what kale is and that they are in high demand at wet markets.
In fact, during the course of this interview, Yuan Hao was interrupted twice by curious aunties wanting to see how an indoor farm looks like and whether they can buy veggies off the shelf.
He gestured towards the glass panel and elaborated, “Through this, they can take a quick look without going inside the farm. The fewer people in there, the lower the risk of contamination of the veggies.”
Farming in a Box
One may have to think out of the box to be creative but Yuan Hao is looking to be creative within one.
Vegeponics is working towards retrofitting containers at a site at First Lok Yang Road near Boon Lay to grow greens.
“This new site will be an extension of the indoor farm at Hillview. With this, we hope to grow up to 15 varieties of vegetables and to triple our production volume to three tons per month. This way, we have enough to supply to supermarkets too.”
Ending off, Yuan Hao gave his take on the national ‘30 by 30’ goal to produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030.
“It’s an ambitious goal but it aims to alleviate the very real problem of food security for Singapore. Looking at our statistics now, it’s not an impossible goal. If more Singaporeans support local produce and farmers do our part to increase yield, this industry will grow.”