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”).