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.
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 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?
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.
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:
Food Waste Solutions Discussion 1
23 Sept 2017
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.
Our next steps are to refine the framework of efforts. These efforts should:
- Consider a Food Waste Web of Actors (that Foodscape or a rotating set of groups can keep track of/host discussions for).
- Utilise Public Education sessions such as Feeding the 5K (hosted by Gone Adventurin’), to do a few things:
- 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.
- targeting changes in tradition in biz and amongst consumers (working with B2B and B2C solutions to change consumer habits).
- urban farming – ? Not clear. EDIT: Some farms may be able to accept organic household waste, but need support on transport. Closer to home, setting up pilot neighbourhood composting areas is one way to go.
- channel public attention to push “enabling legislation” for food waste reduction and recycling. (also see point 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.
- Food waste solutions must support distributors in cutting cost.
- education especially environmental education, which must include new narratives for food waste solutions – 3R that is grounded in existing issues.
100 questions about food
Internet of Microbes: Krautsourcing Food Sharing Ideas
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.
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
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.
A selection of our recordings are posted here. We plan to continue collection, and to show them at a later opportunity.
“On the night of 10 Nov 2016, something stirred in me.
I’d had a relatively poor day, I do not recall what happened exactly, but I knew I wanted change. More importantly I didn’t want to just sit around and wait for change, I wanted to create change. To actively create change to the world and solve any of its problems. I just didn’t quite know how to do it. At least on a level that extends beyond myself.
So I decided then and there, lying in bed, that I will be an active seeker and “do-er” of change.
Pardon my rudeness, I realised I have not introduced myself.
Hello, I’m Han Jing. How are you?
I’m 21 this year, and am majoring in Sociology (NTU), a second year student, if you’re curious.
How did I get from 10 November to writing this, three months on?
I woke up bright eyed bushy tailed the next morning and made my way down to The Eco Film Festival at the Singapore Art-science Museum. I got myself a vegan, gluten free banana loaf from The Fab Cafe (it was really really good!) and went upstairs to join one of the morning film screenings; Growing Roots and Minimalism.
(Side note, both of these are really really good, do go and watch them!)
Anyway, what happened post-screening is the important part. There was a panel discussion and Hui Ying from Foodscape Collective (ah-ha, see where I’m going now?) was hosting the discussion. Something sparked in me as I sat in the audience, I really wanted to be a part of a team to see how we could shape things together, make positive influences, CHANGE THE WORLD!!!
Yes, I was a very excited human being.
When the discussion ended, I mustered every bit of courage I had to approach Hui Ying and asked rather sheepishly, if Foodscape Collective would like to have me as an intern. She said yes(!!) and invited me to talk over tea.
I hope this makes sense to you now. I was originally asked to maybe write a bit about my experience at Foodscape, but I realised that perhaps it would be more interesting to know how I came about joining it and to give my two cents on what I think about food, where food originates and well, any knick knacks that comes to my mind.
I used to think that I have black fingers, but after four dead plants, I have managed to grow two varieties of basil, pandan, chilli (which is having an issue with whiteflies but I digress), cilantro and one tiny little lettuce seedling! All of which are lined up along the corridor of a HDB apartment. I think black fingers can turn green with a bit (or a lot) of patience and TLC (tender loving care).
Much of my interest for edible greens actually stems from my childhood where I often frolicked in my Popo‘s (grandma’s) garden. She has this amazing small plot of land that can grow just about anything. Every evening, I would help her to water her crops using ‘rice water’ and squat around the plants to inspect for any munching caterpillars. I basically grew up with dirt in my nails and sun-kissed skin.
I am a blessed child, and got to learn about the food system (where our food comes from and where it goes to) from a very young age. My family educated me thoroughly about where various foods came from and educated me about taboo topics such as factory farming. It was also complementary then, that I got to experience food from soil to table at my Popo‘s place.
I believe such education about food is essential to cultivate interest and create conscious consumers. I have ploughed through my mind over this and figured that it is only beneficial for children to learn about these topics. The bare minimum would be to have at least a basic understanding that food does not appear out of thin air nor are vegetables and meats grown and manufactured in supermarkets. Children and adults of today, need to see beyond this fragmented relationship and realise that food comes from the soil and would return to the soil again (be it leftovers or in hehe, poop form).
It is a real problem, and a relatively new one only because we are the generation whose relationship with food is growing wider and wider. We are the generation with higher standards of living and we get food gratification simply by placing an order and paying dollar bills for it.
One Mc Veggie Burger please.
That would be four dollars.
Volia! Here’s your food sir/madam.
Our food has gone fast. And our relationship with food will soon be gone fast, as well.
We seek instant gratification, and while doing so, have forgotten that food is an art—a slow art that our ancestors committed to for survival.
We have broken up the process of artwork and grown to focus only on the end results, only on what shows up on our plates. While buying pottery, we only remember the person who curated the vase and sold it to us in cents and dollars but forget who shaped the mud into these concrete pieces.
We have forgotten a lot.
The point of this writing and what drove me to intern at foodscape, would then be this; to instill greater awareness in people of both the beauty of the food cycle, and the things less beautiful; to drive them to think beyond what lies on our white porcelain plates.
I could go on and on about this but I should stop soon. Before I go though, here’s a last bit of my thoughts written on virtual ink from me to you.
If my writing has sparked any interest in you to learn more about the food system (we call it Foodscape), please bring yourself to attend talks and film screenings. There is a calendar of wholesome activities for you on this site. You will learn a lot, I promise this much to you.
Okay I promise this is the last bit. I don’t think this is much of a poem than rhyming words but I hope you dwell on the words rather than regard it as art.
We are eating more, but we are not eating well.
We are eating fast, but we are moving slow.
We are eating, or are we really?
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.
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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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!
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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!