Food Trivia

This page reflects a scattering of facts, ideas and quotes from Huiying’s personal research on the history of agriculture in Singapore. Updated as of 30 October 2015.



– By 1848, there were at least 378 acres of small-scale family-run vegetable farms clustered mainly around the Braddell Road area

– In 1931, in spite of limited land available, family farmers produced nearly self-sufficient quantities of vegetables for the population. The vegetables grown included lettuce, cabbage, onions, parsley, celery, spinach, mint, cucumber, cowpeas, radish, loofah, lady’s finger, brinjal, french beans, bitter gourd, yam, bean, sweet potato, tapioca, groundnut and soya bean (whew!)

– Family farms who were flexible prospered. Early entrepreneurs  used shifting cultivation and focused on small capital investments with quick returns. This was a more resilient model than plantation agriculture, which tended to have high overheads, rigid organisational structures that made it difficult to adjust to crop price fluctuations.

– The most popular commodity crops (tracing from 1819) were first gambier, and briefly nutmeg, then rubber. Many of these exhausted the soil quality. This was interspersed by a string of commercial crops including: sugar cane, cotton, coffee, cocoa, and pineapple–“without exception, all failed”. Pineapple, coconut and rubber replaced these and dominated agriculture until 1945.
Credit: Cynthia Chou, in “Nature Contained” (2014).



Michael Pollan, one of the most vocal and imaginative writers on food, and a champion of sustainable agriculture:

‘It would be a mistake to conclude that the food movement’s agenda can be reduced to a set of laws, policies, and regulations, important as these may be. What is attracting so many people to the movement today (and young people in particular) is a much less conventional kind of politics, one that is about something more than food. The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure, and, most notably, about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other. As the Diggers used to say during their San Francisco be-ins during the 1960s, food can serve as “an edible dynamic”—a means to a political end that is only nominally about food itself.’



Does our city have a memory of its agricultural past?

“As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past.The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the Bags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” – Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Our strange obsession with soil and its relation to reclaiming our soul and society.

Speaking of soil…the National Archive of Singapore has a pretty neat soil map from 1977.