Meet Ong Kai Hian

Managing Director

How does your garden city grow?

Formerly an architect and animator by training, Mr Ong Kai Hian took the lessons he learnt in each field into the complex world of modern agriculture in 2014.

With Kai Hian’s youthful vision guiding the company, MEOD — a word that loosely translates to ‘abundance’ in Hebrew — has stayed true to its vision of supplying Singaporeans with sustainable, fresh greens of a wondrous variety. The first phase of the farm’s expansion is slated for 2020, a process that will increase its output by twenty-fold by 2023.

Agriculture by design

Kai Hian goes in-depth into the big picture thinking necessary for a modern farm to thrive.

Has your background in architecture helped you in the field of agriculture? Image

Has your background in architecture helped you in the field of agriculture?

Architects are problem solvers by training, and are used to working with many stakeholders. [When designing a building] we weave solutions into a certain context, and the building is the end result.

The same applies for modern farming — being able to see the big picture and multiple variables really helps.

 What skill sets have your background brought to the picture? Image

What skill sets have your background brought to the picture?

The fun answer is that I do anything that starts with A. I was trained as an animator during my schooling days, before going into architecture and agriculture.

What challenges did you face when delving into agriculture? Image

What challenges did you face when delving into agriculture?

We started by trying to innovate and build our own vertical system of farming. We initially approach farming with an engineering mindset, but found that while you can care for plants using numbers, they’re living things. Besides nutrients, one needs to think about myriad other factors. Sun, light and temperature are just some of the basics. 

That’s when we realised the complexity of farming — you can’t just put a seed into a cup and expect it to grow. It’s possible to grow a plant with tender loving care, but you need technology to grow a million consistently.

Where does your passion in farming lie? Image

Where does your passion in farming lie?

The main thing is the purpose. We’re fortunate to be given the opportunity to contribute to our nation and connect people in such an intimate way — through food.

But I think it lies in the complexity of precision farming. You can see one variable expand out into many variables — the parameters of farming are so complex. I’m a bit of a technophile — I love how technology can solve problems elegantly. Singapore faces unique constraints like lack of land and natural resources — technology can help overcome those challenges.

A day in the life

“Farming is about people,” Ong Kai Hian enthuses. “Stakeholders, investors, the SFA, and my team are very driven, and there’re so many layers that keeps us moving forward. We all share the same purpose as a community.”

As managing director, Kai Hian’s role centres on people, including his team and stakeholders. Like a conductor in an orchestra, he works with his team to understand how they can overcome problems collectively, while learning from their expertise.

Food for thought

Ong Kai Hian shares illuminating facts about the technological innovation used at MEOD.

It takes a team

High-tech vegetable farming isn’t an endeavour that can be undertaken by one person. According to Kai Hian, urban farming involves everything from chemistry, robotics and plant physiology to physics and data science. That’s a whole lot of expertise going into one salad!

Rethinking nutritional values

Instead of thinking in terms of mass and volume, Kai Hian’s ideal goal is to focus on achieving higher nutritional values for produce, using precision farming methods and technology. This goal allows the farm to increase its efficiency, while giving consumers more value for their purchase.

Farm as communities

Instead of just thinking about supply and demand, Kai Hian believes that the next step for Singapore lies in nurturing communities. Rooftop spaces, community farms and spaces for sharing knowledge are vital for building a deeper appreciation of food, and a stronger food culture in Singapore.

MEOD’s fresh vegetables such as green lettuce and red bak choy can be found on RedMart, Cold Storage and various wet market establishments.


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