Thinking Edibly: Food Discussions *Update*

Thinking Edibly 

Sept 2016 – November 2016

Dedicated webpages: http://thinkingedibly.surge.sh

 

In September 2016, we convened people interested in food – good food, food cultures, and local food production for a series of conversations about what matters if we were to think about food issues, in Singapore. We drew inspiration from the steady efforts of hours and years of participatory food discussions by friends in Canada (Food Secure Canada, People’s Food Policy discussions), and Australia (Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, The People’s Food Plan). More on their efforts, which actively continue today, are found in the resources section below.

These beginning discussions in Singapore arose from watching food go undiscussed beyond its value to the tastebuds. Food is loved in Singapore, but its cheap abundance in hawker centres, subsidized costs in supermarkets, and plethora of images of good looking food on Instagram make it easy to take the availability of food for granted. Food justice and food insecurity, in Singapore, and beyond, go undiscussed. Yet Singapore, which imports over 90% of its food, and hosts businesses that are implicated in mobilizing vast amounts of investment in agricultural land conversion and land grabs (which comes under an umbrella term, “land acquisition”), plays a significant economic and cultural role in changing the agricultural landscape in Southeast Asia, and beyond. (Palm oil is a case in point.)

We wish to find ways for people to find alternatives to the unequal and un-ecological practices dominant in the food and agricultural industry today. Thinking Edibly means to start thinking about our role in this large entrenched system, and our identities as “consumers”.

Session 3: Local Food Production

Local food; food that is unique to a community and reflects its geography and culture of its people. It has to be created through ingredients that are grown only as far as where the locals tread, and the entire production process should begin and end within this geographical space.

A huge turnout – ~35 people, some came unexpected to think with us about Local Food Production. A group of young chefs included!

Session 2: Local Recipes, Local Tastes: Casting Glamour

Gatherings can occur today as a way of re-creating what is past, helping memory find a footing in the present, to re-charge the strength of memory. Yet there are push and pull factors that make it challenging for us to experience these good food memories again: we have so much choice (accessibility and abundance of fast food) today, and a disproportionately smaller amount of resources, people, space, knowledge and language dedicated to slow food.

Session 2: What’s Indah? Glamour and culture in food (culture).
Deeelicious homemade kuehs prepared by Mother and daughter Fifi. They sell these too under their brand, Indah (@indah_desserts, on Instagram).

Session 1: Food for all: Health and Society

What makes up your world? What comes to mind when we think of healthy food? What do we consider healthy, what signs help us know what’s healthy? What barriers stop us and the people we are most in touch with (our customers, clients, patients, volunteers, co-workers) from having these foods?

Session 1: Food and Society looked at what we count as ‘value’ in food. What is good food, that is good for the body, mind, and spirit? Lots of talk about certification, organics, but also body image disorders, and our relationship with food here.
Busy working our notes from session 1~

We are busy now preparing a brief, shareable report on what we’ve found in these discussions, that will be useful for sharing and finding directions forward amongst more groups working on better food futures. Keep checking back!

For now, here is a glimpse of what’s to come!

Thinking Edibly Learnings: 8 things that could happen when we grow our own food.

 

Resources

People’s Food Policy, by Food Secure Canada:

  • Resetting the Table (2011): the result of a long series of food discussions with hundreds of volunteers and thousands of hours.
  • Resetting the Table held a conference in August 2017, with 6 streams to look at the food policy landscape in Canada: discussion papers, policy maps and summary policy tables are available here.

The People’s Food Plan, by the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance:

  • A little about them here
  • Their Food Plan discussion draft (2012) available as a PDF download here.

Food Waste Solutions Discussion 1

Food Waste Solutions Discussion 1
23 Sept 2017

Time to get movin’!

A first attempt for food-related practitioners (foodscapers, urban farmers, freegans, chefs, etc.) to brainstorm productive next steps to counter the wicked problem of food waste in Singapore, and create actionable next steps for ourselves to work on or gather teams to work on.

Notes on our process, rationale, and outcomes are laid out here.

Outcomes:

Our next steps are to refine the framework of efforts. These efforts should:

  1. Consider a Food Waste Web of Actors (that Foodscape can keep track of/host discussions for).
  2. Utilise Public Education sessions such as Feeding the 5K (hosted by Gone Adventurin’), to do a few things:
    1. increase consumer awareness, which includes working closely with organizations (Note: since in SG the govt is so linked to all parts of public life, this includes working with govt bodies) – NEA, SWCDC, student groups,  schools, fruit&veg sellers.
    2. targeting changes in tradition in biz and amongst consumers (working with B2B solutions to change consumer habits).
    3. urban farming – ? Not clear.
    4. channel public attention to push “enabling legislation” for food waste reduction and recycling.  (also see point 5)
    5. involve an element of data collection, that can support the development of such legislation. Data can be made useful to the gradual development of legislation e.g. working with govt stakeholders to pilot data collection that can inform more grounded (valid) legislation.
    6. Food waste solutions must support distributors in cutting cost.
    7. education especially environmental education, which must include new narratives for food waste solutions – 3R that is grounded in existing issues.

Internet of Microbes: Krautsourcing Food Sharing Ideas

100 questions about food
part of
Internet of Microbes: Krautsourcing Food Sharing Ideas
HackerspaceSG
with Marketa Dolejsova and Monika Iwonka
29 July 2017

Our Food Sharing Map, made at the end of the session – check it out editable map

More on the session has been written about by Monika on Sharecities, now away in Switzerland for her next phase of fieldwork~ 

Nutritional food deserts, community gardens, public fruit spaces. I’m interested in identifying the way food circulates through the city, its bottlenecks and areas where surplus gathers. Everyone has some experience of seeing food wasted, or where there’s too little of it. Sets up a basis for conceptualizing the infrastructure of the food system, addressing, and a beginning set of questions. We think about a few examples to get things going – e.g. gardens, supermarket opening and closing times, parks, squares.

Focus: built infrastructure and digital infrastructure.

Walking Workshops 1-4: Exploring urban nature

25 Feb – 18 March 2017

Can Farming be done in the City?

Amidst all the free-floating interest in urban farming and the possibilities of growing our own food, we take a walk around neighbourhoods far and near to talk to the people who tend to gardens. Can Farming be done in the City? What sorts of nature can we find or create in our home, public or shared spaces?

The first round of Walking Workshops has concluded. Please sign up for our newsletter or Like our Facebook page to look out for the next round, or write to us if you are interested in coming on one.

Maximum 15 participants 

–        Explore your perceptions of / preferences for urban nature

–        Understand the types of urban nature found in our city

–        Ask better questions (metacognitive skill)

–        Get to meet other participants and gardeners who’re asking the same questions you are!

 

Put together with the support of the NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability

 

Plants on Air – Venice Biennale Public Programme

Design appreciation for all: Venice Biennale Public Programme (SG)

Frontliners in Action

25 March 2017

Live & Love Green

For this, we presented a short talk and Plants On Air: Live Recording of stories about edible greens used in the kitchen. We were part of this event together with friends: Faiz, representing TANAH, and Angel of Goldhill Community Garden.

Why “Plants On Air”?

A selection of our recordings are posted here. We plan to continue collection, and to show them at a later opportunity.

Workshop: Food-Art-Sustainability (Ideas Fest, NTU CCA)

In late 2016 we were invited to take part in the NTU CCA’s Ideas Fest, where we worked out what turned out to be a good fit – the facilitated ‘ideas-marathon’ we’d been wanting to have, with the food experience of a lifetime – with 449 other guests at a dinner curated by Lucy Orta of Studio Orta. In a workshop bringing together 14 resource persons and many more participants, Lucy and us elicited a list of provocations for a night of conversations.

Continue reading “Workshop: Food-Art-Sustainability (Ideas Fest, NTU CCA)”

Gardening in Toronto: Across Ages and Cultures

In late June, I had the fortune of attending a tour of urban gardens in Toronto, conducted by the Toronto Urban Growers. This was a day before the Scarborough Fare, which I was also attending (and which is the subject of another post!).

 

We visited 4 gardens by bus, subway and walking–lots of walking and talking! I took lots of photos, so let’s zip through what I saw.

 

Garden #1: Ryerson University’s Urban Farm

A view of the skyline, and no exhaust fumes from neighbouring malls!
A view of the skyline, and no exhaust fumes from neighbouring malls!

 

Hakurei turnips, fresh and SUPER crunchy - we got to try one each!
Hakurei turnips, fresh and SUPER crunchy – we got to try one each!

 

Garden Background

You might not be there but a 360 degree view should do part of the trick!
You might not be there but a 360 degree view should do part of the trick!
  • With the passing of a new by-law by the Toronto City Council, all buildings over 6 stories and 2000 square feet now have to have a green roof. Rrun off into the sewage system was getting so bad that they had to make garden plots mandatory.
  • Seeds travel by birds, so the roof was colonised by natural spontaneous vegetation.
  • Ryerson had a group of people and students who worked cross faculty to identify underutilised spaces, they were invited to also look at roof top spaces. They started with a 100 sqaure foot plot (with the help of some engineers).

 

Garden Horticulture

  • Farm size: Quarter of an acre
  • Sheet mulching first – let weeds grow to knee length, and cut and covered with tarp.
  • Made raised beds and cut paths. Soil went from 6 inches to 10.
  • 2 inches of compost are added every year.
  • 30 inches with 18 inch path, following the concept of Human Scale agriculture (Quebec based Jean Martin-Fortier, with his Acre and a half farm that makes a 100,000 dollars without tractors.
  • Grew vegetables – they grow better here than on the ground, maybe because the weeds have been growing and dying here and the soil is more alive – in that the bacteria on the roots of soil (rhizosphere), in the top 2 inches of soil is more alive. Sheet mulching means you keep the soil layer intact which is better for the soil.
  • 5 year crop rotation. Each section is one plant family. Plant families share the same pests and diseases. They also share similarities in how they use the soil. Legumes – beans and peas Nitrogen fixers. Clover as a cover crop. 15 to 20 degree Celsius. When it gets colder- they grow winterlife (which, I just realised, is recreational cannabis!) which scavenges nitrogen.
  • Also grown: Borage, nasturtium, kale, calendula

 

About the Green Roof

  • After the 50s, most modern buildings are built with less infrastructure. Green roof has to have less stuff on top and higher load bearing capacity).
  • Green roof – water roofing membrane (geotex, dimple board, rocks, roof membrane – usually needs to be changed every 10 years but with green roofs some in Germany are 100 years and going)
  • Safety for humans working on it is paramount.

 

Finances

Ryerson Farmers Market, Wednesdays, street level.
Ryerson Farmers Market, Wednesdays, street level.
  • They are a market garden – that means they go to market.
  • CSA model: 25 dollars a year for members. Member farmers pay 5 or 10, and work a few hours or days a week.
  • Once a week, 30 CSA members help on the farm. Same complexity as a 1 or 5 acre farm.
  • Member farmers are students and staff. The staff can cross the street and show up to get something. The students come during exams because they want to be here. It’s de-stressing to work on the farm.

 

Check them out here.

 

Garden #2: Allan gardens

Allan Gardens worked with architects to create gabion boxes capable of storing upcycled materials. Nifty and pretty! Great design in our opinion.

Allan Gardens worked with architects to create gabion boxes capable of storing upcycled materials. Nifty and pretty! Great design in our opinion.

20160622_125637

 

Garden Background

  • Managed by a coordinator at Building Roots, the garden came together around multiple moving components and eventually settled around 13 groups, a conservatory where events could be held, and the concept that it should be a public space open to all. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s inspiring to see how these threads have come together.
  • Greenhouse from University of Toronto where some food plants are grown.
  • Building Roots worked with a group to design the space, including Friends of Allan Gardens.
  • Building Roots tries to collaborate with developers and others to do projects that one can’t do alone. 13 different groups have adopted the plot. There is a club with homeless men, an after school programme, a people with aids group. MDPs office.
  • Decided to have a presence in the park NOW, rather than wait for longer term plans.

 

Garden #3: Spruce Court Public School

Managed by Green Thumbs

20160622_132127

 

Background

Green Thumbs started with the garden when they realised the teenagers who had started the garden didn’t know what they were doing. Strawberries are planted outside to encourage people to pick. There is a lot of taking but they are sure it’s by people who need the food. They have a full time crew, 6 jobs paid for by the federal government under a summer programme that is part of the community engagement strategy (harvesting and planting, youth rotate and run programmes for the community). 

 

Garden #4: Regent Park gardens

And last but not least, possibly our favourite for the work it does in a historically rich and challenging place.. but it’s hard to pick a favourite!

Repurposed wood, made to reflect a bird's eye view of the community food centre and surrounding areas.
Repurposed wood, made to reflect a bird’s eye view of the community food centre and surrounding areas.

 

 

Background

20160622_134243

Regent Garden is a public housing community that was built on the–at that time–cutting edge garden city model developed by Ebenezer Howard in the 1960s. Sounds similar to the Singapore model, only this community’s gardens were actually tended to by the communities living within it. Over the years, garden produce reflected the ethnic communities that came and went – till today where South Asian Bengali produce comes up next to Chinese Pak Choy and sweet potato leaves.

In recent years, revitalisation was called for, and the City Council decided that it would be good to develop property downtown. Now, it has 4 market units for every social housing unit.

It’s not been smooth for the community–along with losing their homes, people feared losing the community gardens that had become a vital part of the area. Of the things people wanted most to stay were the community gardens, or at least, a space to continue gardening. Gardens were not a hobby but a way of having healthy meals, not needing to buy low-nutrition, fast food.  

To draw the different groups working in the area together, and to allow for this transition, Regent Park Community Food Centre was opened, along with a park – meant to be a neutral space that brings the market flats and social housing flats together.

 

Community food centre: Defined as a community centre where everything is around food. Grows, shares, advocates around food.

 

Focus area: Social justice and food access

  1. Downstream problem – people are hungry: emergency meal program. What this space provides: 1) Healthy food, served with as much respect as possible. Community meal cooked with a permanent chef on staff, cooked from chef. Good produce from local farms and good produce the equivalent of that which goes to good restaurants. No judgment. Volunteers craft meals and serve. 150 to 250  for lunch, 250 to 300 dinner, recently in summer the meals have gone up, word has gone out. And, 2) Space to hang out. With supervision, families and women started coming too. Totally free, no means testing, no keeping track.
  2. Mid-stream – Food skills programme. Capacity building. Healthy cooking and recipes with broccoli. Breakfast that you make yourself. Community kitchens with different groups. Community cook-in – open to all to get together to prepare a meal and cook enough for 2 days. 10 weeks of this. Peer teaching programme – sharing skills that are useful: Showing people how to demonstrate while letting them do their own thing. Ask the group what they want to learn at the start. Asks people to teach each other.
  3. Way upstream. Advocacy even though government doesn’t provide funding. Identifies people who need support, come for 15 week training to get through the bureacucracy (housing, work skills etc). Train 15, hire 6, and they continue the next time. [Structural and emotional support.] It wants to solve the upstream problems that lead to people needing food. Raising awareness about the support that is needed.

 

Check them out here.

 

As revitalisation is happening a lot of garden plots are being lost. A lot of people living here from Bangladesh and are used to having their own plots. Now they are going to have communal plots as a compromise solution.

 

So a non-profit, Friends of Regent Park, partners with 15 local agencies to work with the communities that are already attached to them, to use this space. These are highly diverse, but gardening is a common language. 50 languages spoken in this neighbourhood, and different social milieus beside – some groups include a South Asian group, maternity club, and people with AIDS. 

 

Some really know what they're doing! Check out this group - they mulched first, then
Some really know what they’re doing! Check out this group’s soil – they mulched first, then started planting. 

If you liked this post and our work, please consider supporting us. You can do so by volunteering your time (writing this takes time too!), or telling us how you’d like to help. Get in touch at foodscapecollective@gmail.com. Tell us about yourself, and what you do. Every token of love goes a long way!

 

 

Connecting Growers and Chefs

Foodscape Collective connects growers to chefs and designers creating experiential events for others. But it’s not always easy going from one part of the island to another to deliver fresh produce. So why do it?

In a conversation one day, Cuifen and I realised that it was probably a good idea for me to share more about why I’ve decided, on several occasions, to spend good parts of my time delivering produce from gardens to kitchens. I stick to the route of ‘doing it myself’ because only by experiencing it and putting in the time for it, can I really know the value of this work that customers at the end will not see. And we would like to involve others in this, someday soon.

You can join us as a volunteer in being a Connector – to learn more about what farm-to-table really means, and to get to know the individuals that are building the momentum for a real food revolution, right here on this island. For now, read more about our experiences in Connecting others!

Continue reading “Connecting Growers and Chefs”

Food Story Map

In our last outing at the Open Farm Community social market, we asked many of you to add a pin to our offline map. A few of you also shared a bit on your motivations for going to the market, and what you would like to tell our local farmers.

It’s a bit delayed, but here’s a simple story map on the market visitors, made using online tools: http://arcg.is/1SK24ch

Map from Open Farm Community Social Market

Help us make this a better map!  Tell us what other layers you want to see in a story map like this. If you were one of the people at the market, share with us your photos, videos and perhaps a short memory or two, and we will help you add them into our story map.

Never Did I Expect To Get This In Return

The Twelve Okras
The Twelve Okras

We look for reasons to plant, but what if we do so without any at all . . . . .

The weather is getting wetter nowadays but the morning sun is still as comforting as can be. We have to be thankful that we are not robbed of the opportunity to connect to the earth, at least.  The early few hours of bright warm light is generous enough for urban farmers like me to get into some serious action.

I was so delighted to plant my Vietnamese mint cuttings, or what we call laksa in local context, this morning. It was the second variety of laksa plants that I have collected.  That moment, I saw the next door uncle at my gate gesturing for me to go over.

“Okay, my plants have crossed the boundary yet again. I have to promise him to trim it,”  I thought.  Feeling guilty, I walked to him pretending to be relaxed.  But I felt really relaxed when I saw a plastic bag in his hand as I knew I was about to receive some goodies!

Twelve nice okras, not too long and not too short, of the exact size and ripeness that an auntie like me would like to pick up in the wet market. Uncle said to me in Hokkien, “These okras are for you.  They are from the seeds that you gave me a few months ago. And these few seeds are for you to plant.” I was speechless but I knew I had to say something so I told him to keep it for his family, and . . . . . and so on so forth . . . . , but my disobedient arms reached out for it.

Just Plant It!

When I started serious gardening five years ago, I did not expect an exchange of harvest to happen between me and my neighbours. It has since become a common scene between us.  So, why give yourself a serious reason to plant, when planting will yield some unexpected significance in the later part of your lives?  Well, just plant it!

Before uncle left for home, I asked him “Does auntie cook laksa? I have plenty of leaves!”