Giving Ourselves a Reason to Grow

To kickstart Geok Kuan’s column, which is a series of articles written in both English and Mandarin, we present this: her thoughts on her potluck party!

 

 

20150711 Geok Kuan's report

More on Geok Kuan’s Columns

  • Focused on herbs/vegetables/fruits that are easy to grow and can be grown in urban settings.
  • Each article will start with how to grow the plant, medium used, amount of watering, fertilising and harvesting, i.e basically the entire growing process and end with a recipe that makes use of it
  • Motivated by her belief that most urban farmers start gardening with the simple thought of “Giving myself a reason to grow”.

Potluck: Geok Kuan’s Home Garden

We had delicious food and great conversation that evening!

 

On the Menu That Evening

Blue ginger drink and laksa pesto pasta, from Terence

Suzanna’s beetroot salad

Tofu and homemade chilli from Auntie Theresa

Geok Kuan’s drinks: Blackface General drink and two others 

Cui Fen’s leafy greens

Chickpea salad from Huiying

 

LG's homemade bread
LG’s homemade bread
Auntie Theresa's beancurd broth
Auntie Theresa’s beancurd broth
Terence's Laksa Basil Pesto Pasta (what a tongue twister!)
Terence’s Laksa Basil Pesto Pasta (what a tongue twister!)
Edibles from Cuifen's garden
Edibles from Cuifen’s garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening’s Events

Our garden visit and dinner wrapped up with Geok Kuan handing out sampling of shoots to propagate, and a conversation about Foodscape Collective’s work and ideas for the future.

Ideas and conversationDSCN9270

After introducing our work, Cui Fen shared about her interest in learning about others’ gardens. Hang Chong gave input on why learning about food security locally is important, giving lots of anecdotes.

 

Some highlights of the conversation:

  • Reiterating that the offline component is integral to our work, much as we are trying to build an online community for knowledge sharing. Farming isn’t only about one thing; we want to understand individuals’ motivations–everyone has their own interests, and understanding these interests, and creating a sustained knowledge community around these interests, helps us work towards a common goal.
  • Why is our work different from other online communities like Facebook groups on gardens? Responses: there is a diversity of questions and interests (e.g. what heirloom plants do we still have? everyone has a different interest in food. an online collaborative platform helps us share information about this)
  • LG pitched in, talking about her interest in gardens, and some work she has recently started doing, wanting to document the deep knowledge that a 70+-year-old gardener, Uncle Tan, has
  • Lots of sharing from Terence, Kian Wee, Geok Kuan and others that evening, which was very heartening!
People!
People!

Possibilities that have opened up

  • Huiying shared about Edible Gardens’ interest in working with community gardeners to plant and sell or barter harvests, with a moderately good response
  • Sharing excess produce for cookout at migrant worker dormitories with Geylang Adventures
  • Working with LG’s team to support archival of oral and video recordings about plant knowledge

 

Plants under attack! DIY Chilli, Papaya & Fruit Enzymes

Here’s a plant remedy for threatened greens, contributed by a fellow Foodscaper Terence.

 

Chilli enzyme

INGREDIENTS

  • Chilli
  • Garlic steeped in water overnight and sieved
  • Mama lemon detergent (or Castile soap)
  • Vegetable oil (neem oil is best): a couple of squirts

Papaya and fruit enzyme

  • To fruit peels, add some water, keep it overnight, and it’s ready for use. For a more potent enzyme, keep it for a week or more.

Making a Spray to deal with White flies

INGREDIENTS

  • Baking soda
  • Dish-washing liquid
  • Garlic mix

Spray on the insects 3-4 days for 1-2 weeks.

Garden Stories: An afternoon at South Central Community FSC

One year ago, far from the better-known bustle of Tiong Bahru’s contemporary cafe circuit, the first community garden at South Central Community Family Service Centre (FSC) was built. The proposal for the garden was supported by the FSC, after social workers worked with residents to learn their interests. The garden was a boon; with it, people started coming more often to the FSC.
 
The garden as it looks now.
We (Huiying and Elizabeth) visited the garden on a Wednesday afternoon at 5pm, having heard that the FSC is open then. We’d hoped to see some bustle, but it was quieter that day–as we arrived, our guide, PK, told us one of the gardeners had decided to go home earlier that day, so we’d just missed him. But no matter! There was still plenty to see…
Our visit lasted 1.5 hours long (we left when the sun was just setting), with lots of stops to take pictures and ask questions.
Open FSC space
The FSC workers made it a point to bring people in right from the start, so people take ownership over their space.
Open hot desk concept -- social workers are easy to reach and speak to in an informal setting
Open hot desk concept — social workers are easy to reach and speak to in an informal setting

The garden did well, so permission was gotten to spread to three gardens. Now they have herbs in garden #1, crops in garden #2 and the beginnings of a flowering blue pea dome in #3.

Garden plot #1. #2 is further behind (you can see the fronds peeking out) and #3 is further back, behind that
Garden plot #1. #2 is further behind (you can see the fronds peeking out) and #3 is further back

 

Challenges

Like any garden, challenges over decision making, planting styles and harvest times, a sense of collective shared harvests versus personal harvests, and community space versus personal space exist here. Every community garden has similar issues, and they’re necessary issues to overcome (without this happening, you’ve either got a very homogeneous mix of gardeners, or great planning and communication, or the garden’s still young!). But this FSC’s garden faced some unique problems, which were solved innovatively:
  • Reliance on FSC’s water for daily watering–>FSC built a water tank in the garden, so residents could water the plants even when the FSC was closed at night and during weekends.
Water tank for storage --and so the residents can water the plants when the FSC is closed.
Water tank for storage–so the residents can water the plants when the FSC is closed.
  • Some parts of the gardening was backbreaking work for the elderly residents, so the FSC workers suggested to APSN Tanglin School, a school for children with special needs, to have some of their students go over to help with gardening. It was a success–the children were conscientious gardeners, and became the seniors’ mentees and support for the heavier lifting tasks.
  • The garden is also home to some great ideas, like this decision board:
Their decision board--add in marbles to show which option you want! At this point, they were choosing between three different herbal plants to plant next.
Their decision board–add in marbles to show which option you want! At this point, they were choosing between three different herbal plants to plant next.
Something Special
The FSC has a number of innovations that won’t be covered in this article (so a visit there is worth the trip). These include a frozen food plan they have with a local business. Kerbside gourmet brings frozen food in from hotels to the FSC, where the packaged, ready-cooked food is stored in a  freezer and can be re-heated for individual and collective meals.
The FSC is home to a number of other spaces, which make it a dream place for community social experiments. There are success stories in this FSC, such as when kids in the area who hadn’t known each other previously started playing soccer together near the FSC’s open areas. The social workers have started on one experiment again recently–they’re trying to bring the gardening group together with the FSC’s community kitchen group. Both groups have different demographics (ethnic mixes are different), so language differences are a real thing, but they’ve recently found that some individuals in both groups can speak and understand a little of each others’ dialect/language.
The FSC’s social workers are very open–they welcome visitors who can inject a little bit of something to the garden, and anyone who’d like to do something in the space. Some of these include:
  • injecting fun and perspective for the gardeners
  • being a  bridge for different groups that use the FSC’s spaces, and creating more connections between groups in the space. One way is simply to translate! Malay, Mandarin and Chinese dialects are the most common here.
  • doing events with the garden and community kitchen, and/or other spaces to enliven the place and bring the resident groups into more contact with each other
Other things we’d like to know
 
There were many things we didn’t collect that day, including information about the plants grown there.
If this post has suddenly inspired you to DROP EVERYTHING AND VISIT, tell us! It’d be VERY immensely helpful too if you could help us look out for the following:
  • plants grown in the garden: number and types

We do this as part of our Garden Stories Collection, which promotes awareness of our potential sources of local food security, and helps us keep track of the plants we DO grow in Singapore–so that one day, we can say with more certainty if urban farming can make a different in Singapore!

 

For more pictures from the visit, check out our photo album on Facebook.

Booklist–Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods

 Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods
By Jennifer A. Jordan

This book is well-worth a read! Check out an excerpt from the book here. And for some of our favourite parts:

 

There are many motivations for seeking out heirloom varieties: not only for flavor, novelty, resilience, and the preservation of biodiversity, but because of childhood memories of eating particular fruits and vegetables, or shared stories of a specific seed, tuber, or graft. Many seed savers see themselves as stewards, not only of their own family memories but of the shared stories and genetic codes contained within these plants. This kind of recollection works against collective forgetting and the widespread disappearance of so many agricultural plants and animals. Old localized, traditional varieties of plants and animals fell (or were pushed) out of everyday use as agriculture became increasingly large scale, industrialized, and standardized, relying on ever fewer varieties in order to achieve the high levels of uniformity and predictability expected not only by stockholders but also by grocery store shoppers. The loss of biodiversity also means a broader form of forgetting. These genes connect many people to the past, to the ways people gardened, farmed, and raised livestock in their own families or in far-off places. The genotypes of heirloom varieties—of Tennessee fainting goats or of the Abraham Lincoln or Arkansas Traveler tomatoes—speak both to particular genetic arrangements and to specific times and places, as responses to short growing seasons or rocky soil.

 

Why do you think memory and nature are related to each other? Are we just obsessing over these things? (And even if we are…the indulgent side of me likes to think, “so what? maybe that’s the point”).