Meet Ying Ying & Zheng Jie

Second-generation farm owners
Yili Farm

For brother-sister duo Ying Ying and Zheng Jie, farming is more than just a job—it’s a way of life. As children of Yili Farm’s founder Alan Toh, the siblings spent their childhood playing and helping out on the family farm. 

As adults, the siblings have taken on the responsibilities of working on the farm full time, learning from their father’s vast trove of agricultural knowledge and preparing to take on the responsibilities of second-generation farm owners. 

Nurturing Nature

Ying Ying and Zheng Jie share about the joys, struggles and triumphs of managing a modern farm in Singapore. 

What has it been like working on a farm since childhood? Image

What has it been like working on a farm since childhood?

Ying Ying: I wouldn’t say that we’ve ‘worked on’ a farm since childhood... it’s more like we grew up with the farm, playing and helping when help was needed. I have a childhood memory of wanting to play with sand, but since our parents didn’t have time to bring us to the beach, we played with the soil on the farm instead. 

Zheng Jie: We couldn’t help much as children, but we got a first-hand experience of how everything works. It’s been heart-warming to see how the farm has evolved while growing up. 

What made you decide to pursue a career in farming? Image

What made you decide to pursue a career in farming?

YY: Two factors helped me make my decision—the first was the importance of local food security, and the second was the blood and sweat our dad has put into the company. When I had just graduated, our land lease at the farm was ending, so we had to make a choice of either helping with the family business, or giving up everything. 

ZJ: Our dad sat both of us down and asked if we were interested. We talked about it, and both decided that we wanted to help after finishing our studies. 
I initially wanted to study agriculture, but degrees from overseas aren’t that relevant to farming in Singapore. I settled on business analytics and data science since it could be applicable in the future. 


What's the most rewarding part of being a farmer? Image

What's the most rewarding part of being a farmer?

YY: Farming has taught me that great things take time, that every cycle yields different results and that there are bright moments after the storm. I’ve learnt to be patient, to enjoy triumphs while accepting disappointment. 

ZJ: Being able to take a crop through an entire cycle, from seeding to harvesting— seeing a literal labour of love grow before your eyes is truly wonderful! 

What criteria did you have to follow to be a GAP-certified farm? Image

What criteria did you have to follow to be a GAP-certified farm?

ZJ: We had to meet various criteria including food safety, crop protection, produce quality, the way we managed the environment around the farm and the health and safety of our workers. For example, our workers are required to wear gloves and masks while packing the vegetables. We also need to ensure that we prevent any contamination of water discharge into the environment.

What’s the biggest challenge of farming?  Image

What’s the biggest challenge of farming?

ZJ: As an adult, I’ve realised how many potential issues my father had to solve when running the farm by himself. It’s not an easy job—I’ve seen him working through sickness in the hot sun...his discipline and determination are traits that I hope to develop over time.

Do you partake in your own produce? What’s your favourite vegetable dish? Image

Do you partake in your own produce? What’s your favourite vegetable dish?

YY: I LOVE our spinach— Simply stir fry it with garlic. Definitely my first choice! 

ZJ: I actually don’t eat a lot of vegetables, but my number one choice would be our Kang Kong, stir-fried with sambal. 

A Day in the Life

“Farming is all about teamwork,” Ying Ying enthuses. “It can be complicated working with your family, but we do support each other and draw a line at bringing work issues home.” 

At Yili Farm, the siblings have assigned roles to manage. Zheng Jie supports his father with outdoor operations on the farm—from managing workers to overseeing the growth of crops—while Ying Ying manages the packing team, administrative details and communication with government bodies. 

While their responsibilities are distinct, both siblings also assist with the other’s job scope, to ensure that they gain a holistic knowledge of managing the family business.

Food for thought

The siblings share their thoughts on the skill sets and attitudes necessary to succeed as a farmer in Singapore. 

An ‘A’ for attitude

Ying Ying believes that attitude plays the most significant role in a farmer’s success. Skill sets may help you get a head start, but being diligent and willing to learn will allow one to pick up the various nuances of the job. 

The dynamic nature of farming

While Yili Farm employs a suite of modern technology, the vast majority of its crops are still grown on soil. According to Zheng Jie, being able to come up with a comprehensive plan—while improvising on a day-to-day basis due to conditions like the weather and pest control—is crucial to the farm’s success. 

Modern versus traditional

While Yili Farm grows its crops on soil, both Ying Ying and Zheng Jie are quick to dispel the myth that soil-based agriculture is low tech. Farming has evolved over the last three to four decades, and soil-based farms like Yili Farm employ a range of modern technology, from automated packing to sensors that can monitor crop conditions.

Yili's variety of Asian greens which include xiao bai cai, kang kong, round spinach and sharp spinach can be found at NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong or visiting online platforms like Amazon Fresh, RedMart and FairPrice Online.

Yili Farm

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