Green Drinks: Singapore’s Food System — Security x Waste

This post refers to the Green Drinks panel on 5 November (event page).

Our talk on Wednesday had me thinking more about the loop between waste and security.  As a moderator, I see the role that “agency” plays—people’s agency in enabling change—as very significant, and worth elaborating on.

Agency connects waste and security. How so?

Continue reading “Green Drinks: Singapore’s Food System — Security x Waste”

Thinking Edibly: Food Discussions *Update*

Thinking Edibly 

Sept 2016 – November 2016

Dedicated webpages:


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.



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.

Intern Features: Han Jing on “Doing” Change in Food

“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?

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.



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.



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




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.





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 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”

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!”

What are Special Write-ups?

Special Ops, Special Write-ups. We accept ideas for articles, videos, images and any other work that you have made about food, ranging from the mundane everyday bit of information, to the creative and metaphorical. We are not only interested in growing our plants, but in the life cycle of the food product, as it goes from seed, shoot, to fruit, market, our mouths, our heads and stories. Pitch your ideas for this section to us at with the subject heading: Special Write-ups.

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”.