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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Chew

Singapore's local farms - A story of then and now

In our previous blog post, we provided an overview of Singapore’s local farming scene. It's pretty clear how this industry is bound to thrive in the near future. For this second part of our “Urban agriculture” series, we will dive deeper into the types of farms we have developed over the years. From traditional egg and poultry farms to modernised vertical farms producing a wide variety of vegetables daily!

Before we do so, let’s take a short history lesson today to learn more about our past in the farming industry. A lot of us don’t see Singapore as a suitable farming district. This is mainly due to our tech-savvy environment and little land space we have today. All of which don’t look fit for a good farming spot, as most might perceive.

However, if we look back at the early 1900s, Singapore was renowned for our agriculture and farming businesses. Here are some examples of our olden-day farms, along with the faces of our previous generation of farmers!

A short visual essay of our golden age farms.

Potong Pasir’s greenery farm in the mid-1950, mainly used for growing flowers and fruits. (Source: Blogtoexpress)

A family of farmers taking pride of their dairy farm. (Source: Blogtoexpress)

A group of farmers in charge of vegetable and crop pruning, dating all the way back to the 1900s. (Source: Blogtoexpress)

A local farmer carrying out the traditional way of rice watering before harvest. (Source: Blogtoexpress)

Apart from vegetable farms, Singapore also housed with many poultry and meat farms in the past. (Source: Blogtoexpress)

Two businessmen learning the different types of vegetables grown in a local farm, taught by an experienced farmer in 1960. (Source: Blogtoexpress)

As you can tell, agriculture served as an important source of income and lifestyle for Singaporeans during those early years. Here’s a figure to remember. There were about 175,000 Singaporeans actively farming by 1970, summing up to 10% of the entire population! In addition, there were about 2,075 official farms built in Singapore.

Popular shopping areas used to be major districts for farmland as well. An example would be Orchard road, which was the main stretch of orchard farms used for growing flowers. Now you know where the name of this famous place came from.

All of this is a little hard to believe now, looking at the new-fangled city Singapore is today. Nevertheless, farming is still alive and kicking in 2021, and it’s even better than before.

With a growing community and urbanisation, Singapore’s farming industry was restructured to focus on three main produce – eggs, fish, and vegetables. This time, we have the power of technology on our side, and vertical space to grow crop tenfold. This combination of technology and agriculture forms a phenomenon known as “Agri-tech”.

So, how do our modern farms look like and function?

Sky Greens utilise 9m tall vertical structures to grow 3 of Singapore’s most popular vegetables; Nai Bai, Xiao Bai Cai and Chinese cabbages. (Source: Consiouscookiee)

Sustenir Agriculture is well known for their pesticide-free food without the presence of soil (Source: Singapore Food Agency)

There are many types of modernised farms in Singapore, but almost all of them have one thing in common, Agri-tech. So, what is that? To summarise, Agri-tech is the use of modern-day technology to maximise production, efficiency, and profitability in the cultivation of crops. This is also used in growing plants/trees in general (AKA horticulture), aquatic plants and even seafood (AKA aquaculture)!

How and what makes these Agri-tech farms work? According to The Balance – Small Businesses, here are four essential factors that enable them to fulfil their purpose:

i) Physical layout - producing more with less space, hence plants and vegetables are cultivated in stacked layers, forming a vertical tower.

Source: Eco Warrior

ii) Lighting - a combination of natural and artificial lights to sustain healthy growth. Also, technologies such as rotating beds are used to maintain a perfect light level for the veggies.

Source: The Economist

iii) Growing medium - instead of soil, hydroponic growing mediums are used as the foundation for growth. Other environmentally friendly mediums like Peat moss, Coconut husks and soil-free bases are also commonly used.

Source: Garden Ambition

iv) Sustainability features – lastly, sustainability features in vertical farming offset the energy, cost, and efficiency used in traditional farms. In fact, they even use 95% less water than normal farms, an amazing way to save our country’s scarce resources.

Source: Food Navigator

Previously, you have seen our olden day farms. Now it’s time to take a sneak peek at our modern-day ones! Here are some great examples.

1. Upgrown farming co.

Intending to bring simple and effective farming solutions to everyone, Mr Terrence Tan and Mr Lionel Wong built the Upgrown Farming corporation. These two co-founders took away some key lessons from their time studying in Temasek Polytechnic. That being to improve the growth of local produce in Singapore using smart technology, and a passion for the farming scene. Do check their website out for more info on ZipGrow (technology used in their vertical farming towers)!

2. Citiponics

Citiponics was started 5 years ago in 2016, with a passionate team of farmers that have almost 3 decades of experience. Being able to grow local produce within the constraints of urban space, they have mastered the art of vertical farming on the roof of a car-park! Citiponics constantly provides education to the future generations of youth on the importance of sustainable farming, do check their website for those and more!

3. Artisan Green

Artisan Green is built in a laboratory, with high-tech temperature monitors and LED light to ensure their vegetables are grown healthily. Mr Ray Poh started this company with the goal of serving vegetables straight from the farm to our plates. Now that the government has introduced the "30 by 30" campaign, Mr Poh continues to develop his agri-tech farm, growing his baby spinach in new modernised ways! For his background story and how it all started, click here.

In conclusion

Looking back at how far we have come since our early years, it really shows the bright future of Singapore's farming industry. What may entail is vast with countless possibilities. Till then, we should continue supporting our local farms as much as possible, reaching our 30 by 30 vision one step at a time!

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