I have often been asked why I don’t grow much Chinese leafy greens. Those commonly seen in the market like chye sim/choy sum, kai lan, xiao bai chai, Chinese cabbage, etc. After all, growing up in a Chinese family, these are the vegetables frequently seen on my family’s dining table. Food is a big part of our identity, heritage and culture. What we eat during childhood is usually entrenched deeply in us. It is familiar ground we draw comfort from. So why do I choose not to grow these vegetables?
Truth be told, it’s something I have done before. I still remember planting and harvesting chye sim, Japanese kai lan, Chinese cabbage, and xiao bai chai from a rooftop garden at a school over 3 years ago. It’s always nice growing what you ate growing up as a child, proudly bringing the harvest home for your mum to cook them in the same way.
Chye sim/choy sum
Xiao bai cai
Xiao bai cai
Peeking into supermarkets around Singapore and Malaysia, one can be led to think that these Chinese greens grow perfectly well here. You see chye sim, bak choy, kai lan, radishes arranged in neat rows with labels stating they are grown locally. Walking around commercial vegetable farms, you see acres of them planted neatly on straight mounds. A sea of uniform green covered with thick juicy leaves. Try Googling “malaysia vegetable farm” or “singapore vegetable farm” and you’ll know what I mean. Images are powerful, and that was the type of farm I was striving for when I started farming.
Conventional image of a vegetable farm (Source: AVA)
But somehow, along the way of my farming journey, I stopped growing these vegetables. Here’s why… Continue reading
Have you ever seen slashes on a papaya tree? Shallow knife wounds not intended to chop her down but merely to bleed her. The farmer said this tree in particular has not fruited, unlike her peers planted at the same time.
“She’s too complacent,” he said. “Got to make her work harder.”
But what if she’s not ready? She might want to grow deeper roots first in case of a future drought, or bigger leaves first to harvest more sunlight for tastier fruits, or dedicate energy to her health first before fruiting. She might want to reach for the stars first before having kids.
“No, she’s taking up prime real estate and has to pay for it.” Continue reading
Earlier this month, AVA announced that 10 parcels of vegetable farming land in Kranji will be awarded to 8 companies. These are all high-tech farming companies that use “productive and innovative farming systems, such as greenhouses with automation and smart controls; multi-tier hydroponic systems using LED lights and data analytics to optimise growing conditions; and multi-storey farms that use automated soilless cultivation system and robotics”.
Source: AVA website
On AVA’s website, the first thing listed under “What We Do” is ensuring food supply resilience. To me, food resilience and security is about meeting our entire population’s minimal nutritional needs with safe food during all situations. There are 3 reasons why I think leasing our agricultural land to these high-tech farms do not contribute to that.
1) Poor Calories
Calorie is key for food resilience. One can survive somewhat miserably on a pure rice diet. Change it to a pure chye sim diet and it’s a different story. These high-tech farms are definitely not growing rice. How about farming high-calorie vegetables that are full of carbohydrates to fill your stomach, like tapioca or sweet potato? After all, these were the kinds of food our grandparents and parents survived on during the Japanese occupation when there wasn’t enough to eat. Well, these companies are only allowed to grow leafy vegetables. Not root vegetables or even fruiting vegetables like long bean and eggplant. Continue reading
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…
The crime scene: upturned soil and an unknown fruit
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
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.
Funeral procession in Beijing, 1900. Source: Wikipedia
I 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.
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