Becoming A Forest

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The forest beside the lawn

On a pleasant Sunday morning, I observed some interesting happenings along the edge of a forest at Lower Pierce Reservoir where I jog to or play football occasionally. There were some patches of upturned soil on the otherwise flat and trimmed lawn. It was somewhat thrilling because I felt like a detective at a crime scene, gathering clues to figure out what happened. Even better, I also felt like a hunter tracking a prey by reading signs left behind to foretell what might happen in the future. Here’s the story of what I think happened…

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The crime scene: upturned soil and an unknown fruit

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Made in Singapore – The Story of Three Veggies

Over the weekend, I gave a talk at a conference in downtown Singapore. The conference is called FutureME and showcases emerging ideas, innovation and trends shaping our future. There were a few speakers addressing urban farming and local food. I guess that people in Singapore are becoming more concerned about food issues.

My talk was probably the shortest. It is a story of three locally grown vegetables. It is a response to the many high-tech growing systems that I am starting to see more of only recently. Hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, indoor growing, soil-less growing, etc. Continue reading

Till Death Do Us Part

A relative of mine passed away recently. We were all saddened by her death, though I could not help but think about certain things during the funeral. I thought about how modern cultures deal with death and how that reflects their relationship with nature.

In most civilizations…

When we die, we chop down a big tree to make a big coffin. Other than the life of the tree, we are taking away lives that the tree is supporting. The birds with their nests gone, the squirrels that eat the fruits, the caterpillars that chew the leaves, the fallen leaves that feed the earthworms. In Chinese customs, the coffin is given much importance. For wealthy families, the coffins can be very big and made of quality wood. They require many bearers to carry. That is probably one of the many contributing causes to the lack of forests in southern China even during the 1900s (read F H King’s Farmers of Forty Centuries). Upon seeing the photo below, my mother told me that her grandmother had a coffin of that size during the 1980s in Singapore. Big trees were still abundant then, I guess.

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Funeral procession in Beijing, 1900. Source: Wikipedia

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Book Review: David Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

71CQMQ7BjaLI recently came across Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability written by David Holmgren at the library. To be honest it wasn’t a book on the top of my must-read list. When one talks about permaculture books, there will be more well-known ones like Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual (a.k.a the permaculture bible) or Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden. It just happened that I was going to be spending three weeks back in the military as part of mandatory national service and that means lots of spare time to read.

The Author

Lets start with the author. Some of you might have heard of David Holmgren because he was the co-orginator of the permaculture concept together with Bill Mollison. Mollison was actually Holmgren’s professor at that time. The first time they introduced the permaculture concept to the public was in Permaculture One in 1978. At that time Holmgren was only 23 years old. Talk about precociousness!

Holmgren did not co-author the other permaculture books that Mollison published thereafter. He was also less prominent in public with teaching and spreading permaculture than Mollison. So what has he been up to? It was 24 years between 1978 when he published Permaculture One and 2002 when this book was published. Apparently Holmgren has been spending all this time testing and refining his theories on different sites in Australia. I was very interested in seeing what this guy has to say after all these years. Continue reading

Video: How Wolves Change Rivers

A short video that talks about how wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years caused the most remarkable “trophic cascade”. The wolves give life by killing. This shows the importance of biodiversity in any ecosystem, farming or not. It shows the futility of human efforts in micro-planning and micro-managing something as complex as nature. Sometimes you just have to step back and let nature decide…


Narration from TED: “For more wonder, rewild the world” by George Monbiot. Watch the full talk, here: http://bit.ly/N3m62h

Book Review: Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

gaias_gardenI read Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway a few months back. I think it’s a good time to give a brief review now that I have given all my learning and thoughts time to settle and synthesize. I don’t have the book beside me for reference and I am only recalling from memory the elements that struck me most.

I found this book in the library after searching for “permaculture” in the catalog. It is probably the most popular permaculture book that has been written in recent years. To be honest, I was quite impressed that the Singapore library actually has books on permaculture considering how alternative it is. There is an element of subversiveness in permaculture, as Bill Mollison said it himself. When he heard a reviewer describe his teachings as seditious, he said:

Yes, it was very perceptive. I teach self-reliance, the world’s most subversive practice. I teach people how to grow their own food, which is shockingly subversive. So, yes, it’s seditious. But it’s peaceful sedition.

Well, it definitely does not look subversive from the cover of the book! Continue reading