• Perspectives
  • 18 May 2020

Grow your own food - Tips, tricks and why we should be doing it

Contributing to responsible economic growth and sustainable development by being environmentally responsible is among the five sustainability pillars which guide our approach to embed responsible and sustainable business practices into the core of our business.

We feature Edible Garden City, a Singapore-based social enterprise which is dedicated to creating a social change through pushing the urban farming movement. The team is passionate about finding a solution to Singapore’s food security and waste management challenges.

I co-founded Edible Garden City in 2012 as a social enterprise with the aim of getting as many Singaporeans as possible interested in growing their own food and thinking about food sustainability.

This was shortly after I had returned from London where I had been working. In my free time there, I cultivated my green fingers by working on organic farms in various parts of Europe and this helped me decide what I wanted to do next with my life.

On these farms, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the town folk of all ages seamlessly worked together. They had an incredible respect for their fresh produce and the land itself. It was heartening to see how their strong sense of community played a big role in their day-to-day lives.

This 'village aspect' formed the inspiration for Edible Garden City, and particularly our farm in Queenstown, where we hold workshops, and conduct volunteer sessions for like-minded individuals to learn about growing their own produce.

Eight years on, there is a fresh sense of urgency to growing our own food and to strengthening our food resilience as a nation.

In March 2019, the Singapore Government announced a “30 by 30” vision – to grow 30% of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030, up from less 10% at the time.

Local farmers are ramping up their production to bolster food resilience in Singapore but individuals too can play a part as well to help reach the target set.

It begins with a change in mindset.

The supermarket may be the natural place to go to for most of us to satisfy our dietary needs, but it does not always need to be the case. Unbeknownst to many, there is a wide range of fruits and vegetables which can easily be grown at home.

They include fragrant mint, crisp lettuce and creamy eggplant which have no problem thriving in a tropical climate.

In growing our own produce, we also introduce a host of benefits to our overall well-being.

Benefits of gardening

Enjoying a wider spectrum of fresh fruits and vegetables means that we will likely be eating more nutrient-dense foods.

Produce bought from stores could have been harvested days or even months before landing in your cart. With each passing day since it came off the plant, fruits and vegetables lose more nutrients, water content and flavour. For example, if you’ve never had a fresh lady’s finger, you might describe its texture as being fibrous and slimy. However, a fresh-off-the-plant okra is actually crunchy and nutty, with no slime at all.

Next, habitual gardening is thought to have immense physical, mental, and social benefits. A series of studies conducted by NParks and the National University of Singapore showed that seniors who are pre-disposed to or suffer from dementia showed improvements in cognitive ability when they engaged with regular gardening sessions and interacting with fellow gardeners.

Extensive anecdotal evidence supports mood boosts and better mental health among people of all ages, correlating with more time spent outdoors gardening.

Finally, growing our own food helps us to better understand how the food economy and environment are inextricably linked. We are more likely to develop a stronger desire to know what goes into our food, promoting cleaner commercial farming globally, and safer food for everyone. 

Tips for new gardeners

The rule of (green) thumb here is that everyone can garden, no matter your age, background, or how ‘green’ you perceive your fingers to be.

Anyone who is interested in gardening should start by growing something they enjoy eating. That way, you'd be motivated to take good care of the plants. And even if you fail, don't be discouraged and keep growing.

It is a common misconception that you need to have ample space at home to grow edible plants. Having just one pot in your office and home will help you to hone your green fingers and let you harvest some fresh herbs or veggies.

Housing Board corridors or even window sills could be suitable for growing plants. Get creative when figuring out how to use the space; perhaps even make your own trellis for your climbing plants. Another way would be to join your community garden to make new friends and enjoy growing edible plants in the great outdoors.

If you are worried about the needs of your plant, a little research can go a long way. There are edible plants that can be grown in almost all light and space conditions that exist within a typical home.

For instance, microgreens are a great option for beginners. They are easy to grow, do not require much light, and harvestable in just two weeks. Otherwise, veggies like sweet potato leaves, cucumber and long beans, or even common varieties like mint, can be successfully grown at home too.

Some general tips are:

  1. Be patient. 
  2. Get to know your plant, and watch for signs it will give you when it needs more or less water, nutrients and more.
  3. Grow what you like to eat
  4. Select suitable edible plants for the specific growing environment
  5. Don't be afraid to ask for help

 This article was contributed by Edible Garden City. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Bank of Singapore Limited or its affiliates.

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Version: December 2019