(Originally published on SFA Facebook)
Key Member of the Team
So the story goes that Serene, a graduate from the University of Queensland in a degree in sustainable agriculture, then started out as a part-time farmer at Edible Garden City (EGC). But there was so much work to do that she ended up working full-time hours – willingly of course.
She soon became a key member of the team and went on-board, full-time, permanently.
Currently helping with the operations for hydroponics farming and mushroom cultivation, she does everything from germination to packing.
“I did part-time at first because I wanted to make sure I know what I’m getting myself into. I guess I’m fully invested now!”
Passion for Growing Food
Serene initially majored in horticulture at the University of Queensland, before toying with the idea of switching to agriculture halfway through.
“I had this thought-provoking conversation with a foreign friend about Singapore’s greenery efforts. He asked why put so many resources to grow plants, solely to look good? I was stunned and wasn’t sure what to reply.”
She continued, “Don’t get me wrong, all plants have their functions and benefits. It’s just that I came to find more meaning in growing edibles.”
Serene was further inspired during her field trips to farms in Australia.
“Farmers there shared their challenges and how they are thinking of ways to increase their yield. They are also moving towards more sustainable farming practices, which is important for the environment.”
When asked if her parents were supportive of her career in farming, Serene was forthcoming.
“When I was chose horticulture, they were okay as Singapore has a lot of greenery that requires maintenance. The opportunities are there.”
“When they heard about my decision to do agriculture, they were a little hesitant. It was only after they started reading about the rise of urban farming in Singapore, that they became more accepting of my choice of vocation.”
Her parents show their support for their daughter by buying local produce at supermarkets as much as they can.
“But mostly the traditional Asian leafy veggies, lah.”
Rooting for Hydroponics
Serene believes hydroponics is the way to go to enhance food security in Singapore.
Hydroponics is a multi-step system and germination is done outside of it.
“We germinate kale and lettuce in sponges and when they grow roots so they can absorb nutrients, we transfer them to the hydroponics system.”
The key in hydroponics is in the nutrients solutions.
Once we have the formula, we apply them to the stacks of veggies and grow them in small spaces, like the container here at EGC.”
At EGC, pink and golden oyster mushrooms are grown in bags within a meshed house, complete with sprinklers. They take about 6 to 10 days to grow fully.
“The bag is like a battery with nutrients. It’s such an intense energy source that other spores in the air compete for the same nutrients and feed off them in the bag.
If that happens, mushrooms will not grow to their optimal condition.”
Every day, Serene checks the mushroom bags for contamination. She promptly removes contaminated bags and replaces them with new ones to prevent the other bags from being infected.
These contaminated bags aren’t just thrown away. Serene finds a way to repurpose them by putting them into soil and using their nutrients to experiment with other crops.
Making a Difference
Serene subscribes to the millennial mantra of idealism and seeks personal growth in all endeavours.
“We want to change the world, make a difference, save the earth. Sustainability is a big topic now. So the agriculture industry is a good platform for young people to do something meaningful.”
Although she is young and has just started out, Serene feels that the narrative for farming in Singapore has changed for the better.
“The industry seems more exciting now. There are farmers’ markets, courses catered to agriculture, community rooftop farms…”
“In fact, EGC’s upcoming rooftop farm at Funan Mall was planned by the property developer from the onset, rather than it being a retrofitted space. This means that there is a push for urban farming in Singapore.”
Serene also told us that EGC has a production arm called the Citizen Farm. In addition, EGC offers other services such as ‘foodscaping’ (or landscaping using edible plants) and farming workshops.
Serene is proud to be part of the growing movement for sustainable food production in Singapore.
“Many farmers at EGC are young and passionate about what they do. We are truly the early adopters of the movement. Then, there are also older volunteers with their wealth of experience.”
“I get to learn from the best of both worlds.”