As COVID-19 hit, the issue of food supply came under heavy focus – about the time when Germaine Thong joined SFA as an account manager for farms.
It was timely, as even more support and resources were being committed to help local farms ramp up production.
“Right from the get go, I was visiting farms to understand their operations and learning of ways to help them build up their capabilities.”
Germaine was motivated by her interest in growing her own food to become a farm account manager.
When I was young, I was curious about how the food on our tables is produced. I started growing some vegetables on my own and fast forward to today, I’m working with our farms to produce more fresh leafy greens.”
Her work involves linking farms up with agritech solution providers and available funding options, to advising them on regulation and licensing issues.
The farmers Germaine meets range from those who are in their fifties, with decades of farming experience under their belt, to others who are relatively new to the agri-food industry.
While their experience may vary, all of them share the same drive – to produce more food for consumers here.
Offering a different perspective
During her visit to the farms, she learns more about their operations and offers suggestions to improve their production. This could be using technology, such as an automated seeding machine which could help the farm speed up their production and save on manpower, for instance.
But ultimately, it is for the farmer to decide what works best for their farm. “What we can do is offer a different perspective and provide suggestions, and try our best to help farmers see their value and potential.”
Tool #1 – Notebook
With 14 farms under her care, Germaine makes sure to keep track of each farm’s progress in her notebook.
“Our farmers are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their businesses. They often share about some technology or innovation they’re keen to try out, but may forget about it along the way.
I’ll pen down my conversations with the farmers, and remind them of what they wanted to do.”
Changing the stereotype
As a 23 year-old university graduate, Germaine often gets asked why she chose to enter the farming industry, where work may be perceived as laborious and unglamorous.
“Many seem to have the impression that farming is for the older generation and involves a lot of strenuous manual labour. That may have been true in the past, but our farming landscape has been changing for some time now.
Many of the farmers I meet are very educated and progressive. They also make use of innovative technology that are productive and climate-resilient, so farming today is actually much more high-tech than what many assume it to be.”
For example, some of the indoor vegetable farms that were recently awarded funding under SFA’s ‘30x30 Express’ grant will be tapping on AI farming systems and Internet of Things to ramp up their production.
Sowing the seeds
With the time spent working with farmers and being able to see first-hand the amount of effort put in, Germaine feels a sense of appreciation and pride when she sees packs of vegetables with SFA’s bright red local produce logo on supermarket shelves.
Tool #2 – Patience
“Sometimes, farmers can get a bit anxious as they’re eager to push their business forward.
The process is not as straightforward as some may think. Farmers have to conduct R&D and tweak different factors like the lighting duration to find the best conditions to increase their yield of vegetables.”
It also takes time for Germaine to build rapport with the farmers and work with them to find suitable solutions.
But seeing the produce from the local farms make its way onto supermarket shelves makes all the effort worth it.
My family buys and cooks with local produce, and not just me – even my dad finds it fresher!”
Waking up to a green future
With the steady supply of food being taken for granted at times, Germaine sees the current pandemic as a timely reminder to Singaporeans to better appreciate the effort that goes into producing the food on our tables.
“While we understand that some consumers may be more price-sensitive, we need to set our sight on the longer term. When more people support local produce, this will increase demand and give farmers the confidence to invest in productive farming systems and produce more food.
This will make us more food-secure as a nation, and also allow our farmers to enjoy economies of scale which will benefit consumers in the long run.”
Germaine is also optimistic that more will join her in the farming industry, as urban farming grows deeper roots in Singapore.
“There are many avenues for people to try their hand at farming and pick up the relevant skillsets, such as through the urban agri-tech programmes offered by our local polytechnics.
It’s been a really enjoyable and rewarding experience for me being able to support our farmers in what they do and seeing them grow, so I hope more will be able to be a part of this movement. Be it joining our local farmers or simply choosing local produce when grocery shopping!”