Kai Hian: Hello, I’m Kai Hian, Managing Director of MEOD. I work closely with the team to grow better and more sustainable food supply, that includes building systems to sales and marketing.
Chuen Wei: I’m Chuen Wei, Executive Director of SAFEF. I lead the team to help Singapore’s agro-culture industry to be more progressive and productive and to promote local produce to consumers in Singapore.
This year has been designated the Year of Singapore Food Story and we had just launched the #fromSGtoSG campaign to promote local produce. What have you or your farm/association done to encourage consumers to buy local?
KH: As a local farm that’s starting out, we’ve been spreading the word on the benefits of local produce. We’ve approached retailers (both online and brick-and-mortar) and even wet markets, which have been supportive of us throughout our journey.
We also believe in the power of co-creation. The new SG Fresh Produce logo was borne out of various focus groups discussions with farms including MEOD.
Another way we are contributing is by ensuring we grow fresh produce sustainably. Hence, we test many systems to get the best results in quality, yield and environmental sustainability. We currently grow close to one tonne of greens (and on a smaller scale, cherry tomatoes) per week.
The next step would be looking at automation for the farm so we can grow more vegetables, faster and using less resources.
We test many systems to get the best results in quality, yield and environmentally sustainable methods.”
CW: SAFEF has organised several SG Farmers’ Markets (SGFM) where local farmers were able to showcase and sell directly to consumers. Vice versa, consumers can also interact with the farmers to learn more about the produce and how they are grown and harvested.
We also had cooking demos which featured dishes using local produce.
And I think we’ve done a pretty good job at these markets - we’ve had many people asking if SGFM could be organised more frequently and where else they could purchase local produce.
So this led to our collaboration with Lazada’s RedMart on the e-SG Farmers’ Market.
We also recently started a blog, that includes articles about the benefits of choosing local produce, the stories behind some local farmers and recipes of dishes using local produce.
MEOD's 'Leafy Me' produce at supermarkets
Why is supporting local produce important?
KH: In the short term, it’s about getting fresher produce with lower carbon footprint. In the mid-term, we look at building a better spectrum of local food. With local production, you control the types of crops you want to grow, including novelty crops!
Chefs will get to dabble with new ingredients and you never know, we may get new national dishes out of them!
In the long term, it’s to improve our food security and build our capacity to provide for consumers.
CW: I agree with Kai Hian, especially on the part that local produce is fresher. If you look at the food miles, it’s almost impossible to beat local produce in terms of distance. The shorter distance also translates to fewer nutrients lost during transportation.
Moreover, with the Covid-19 pandemic and other potential supply disruptions, we need to shore up our supply by growing some of our own food.
I think we can do more.
For example, farms can work to supply schools to make school meals. This will help local farms get stable orders as well as provide fresher and nutritious food for our next generation.
Doing this will help send a strong message to consumers on the benefits of local produce.
The SAFEF booth at the 2017 SGFM at myVillage
CW: While our efforts have brought in positive results (like higher awareness of local produce, bigger turnout at SGFMs), consumers are still telling us that they find it difficult to locate local produce at retail stores because signs pointing to them are not as visible as they would like.
We need to engage not just retailers but the entire supply chain – from farms, to distributors, to retailers and consumers – to support our initiative.
There is also a gap that needs to be filled - to reach out to the “non-converted” via a strong, consistent and sustained campaign on mass media.
I’m happy to see the launch of the #fromSGtoSG campaign, which I believe will help increase the visibility of local produce.
What are some of the local produce you buy and cook?
Both Kai Hian and Chuen Wei cook homegrown greens at home
CW: All types of spinach, particularly red spinach. The local ones especially, keep well, whether cooked or uncooked. It’s also versatile – soups, different vegetable dishes, cooked in porridge or noodles. My favourite? 3-egg spinach!
If you could describe yourself as a local produce item, what would you be and why?
KH: Xiao bai cai, the resilient crop that can grow in most climates and is familiar to many 😊
CW: Spinach - they are hardy and versatile. Also, eating spinach makes one strong, according to Popeye!
Tell us some of the tools of the trade you use in your course of work
Kai Hian feels that local farmers need a dose of optimism to keep them going
Another tool is optimism. For local farmers, the reality is there are many unknowns and layers of complications. While we innovate to scale up as fast as we can, there are a lot of trials and errors.
But, looking at the satisfied faces of our customers – it’s all worth it. If everything is smooth sailing, you will never get to appreciate success.
CW: Adaptability - As situations evolve (as they often do), we need to be able to make adjustments along the way. Like creating a blog to engage consumers as more get on the digital bandwagon.
Creativity – Thinking out of the box is important so that messages and events are kept fresh and appealing to consumers. If not, they may get campaign fatigue.
Food for Thought is a digital publication by
© 2020 Singapore Food Agency
Last updated on Tuesday, April 14, 2020