When people ask me why I chose to go back to the basics with farming at our latest project, Open Farm Community, I say: “Go and chart the food movement.”
We started Open Farm Community because we saw a gap in the market. In the past, people hated the idea of knowing what was going on in the kitchen. But that slowly changed and the concept of open kitchens became a thing — people wanted to see action. en came the notion of celebrity chefs. In recent years though, people have become obsessed with knowing the production of food and buying local. You can see that movement backwards. The one big dining concept now is farm-to- table. Even that is quickly changing to a focus on the farm.
I think being in a city and an urban landscape, people are easily stressed out by that kind of lifestyle. Why does every New Yorker aspire to have a countryside house? Because nature is healing and horticulture is therapeutic. Because we are segregated from nature, we start to crave more of it. People feel the need to return to this basic state.
We embraced the ideas of urban farming and vertical farming to show people that it can be done. We’re not just talking about growing a few pots of herbs — we’ve taken it a step further by acquiring rooftops in the city from Wheelock Place to Raffles City, creating a farm in Dempsey and even doing some indoor farming in Little India. We’re even experimenting with crops that typically do not grow in Singapore. For example, eggplant and zucchini are tough plants to grow here, but we’ve found a way to do that.
People like to take the easy way out by getting them shipped from countries like Australia, but we’ve chosen the harder path. The result is we now have heirloom tomatoes growing in our backyard.
Many chefs don’t want to work in Singapore because the produce they want usually needs to be imported. But we’ve shown a number of three Michelin-starred chefs our produce and they always wonder where we bought them. When we explain that we grew them ourselves, they are always amazed by what we’ve done.
This concept of growing isn’t about the farm- to-table concept or even about sustainability. The bigger idea is about growing and supporting local farming. If we use all the plants in Open Farm Community, it’s probably barely enough for two services, but what it does is show people what can be done in Singapore. If we run out of produce here, we buy local. But the message is the same — introducing farming to urbanites. We’re trying to start a movement. This concept is so much bigger than farm-to-table. I want to show people that we can grow produce here. If this concept continues to grow, I’ll go out and get more land.