Singapore is a regular destination for me, and I enjoy staying at One Farrer Park Hotel. As a frequent visitor, I often chat with hotel managers, who recently were curious about what I do for a living. On learning that I was a champion for innovation in agri-business, they invited me to look at their 7th-floor terrace, which features 11,000 square meters of market garden, producing everything from herbs, vegetables, salads, and fruits to exotic flowers.
All the produce is used either at the hotel or at a neighboring hospital. Four full-time staff members are employed to tend to the farm. Singapore’s hot, sunny, humid climate is so conducive to farming, the hotel didn’t need to put in any special measures to encourage growth.
“We brought in high-quality soil form Malaysia when we built the hotel, and the farm terrace is built on a structure designed to hold a large swimming pool, so it is both water-resistant and able to support a great weight,” Eugene, the hotel concierge manager who showed me around, explained. “We do have an irrigation system using recycled/collected rainwater, but we don’t use it that often – certainly not in the wetter seasons around the new year.”
Eugene told me that they make compost from leftover veggie food waste, finding that eggshells make particularly good fertilizer. “We use very little bought in fertilizer; our own compost works well,” he noted.
The operation is too small to provide for all the vegetable needs of the 300-room hotel, but produce from the farm is used in every meal served. Also, flowers from the garden adorn the lobby, and food waste to outside refuse contractors has been reduced. “We grow an abundance of herbs that we use every day in our kitchen,” Eugene said, “and the chefs say that you can’t compare the taste of just-picked herbs with the fresh packet (herbs) we get from our supplier.”
Eugene explained that 90% of Singapore’s food comes from overseas, with Malaysia, Brazil, and Australia being the three biggest exporters to Singapore. To preserve its freshness, much of the foodstuff is flown in. “We like to think we are doing our little bit to reduce the carbon footprint of Singapore’s food and contribute to Singapore’s food sustainability,” Eugene said.
The market garden was growing some exotic fruits. I saw durian (which bears fruit every 7 years and features an interesting smell), huge jackfruit (which allegedly tastes like pulled pork), dragon fruit, and mangos. Dressed in my best gardening clothes (see above), I offered to lend a hand and poked away at a flower bed before squashing some seedlings with my shoe. Whilst I love being a champion for agri-innovation, I’m certainly not a farmer! I believe everyone was relieved when it was time for me to leave.
I’d like to thank Eugene, Karen, and my hosts at One Farrer Park, and I commend them on their initiative. The level 7 patio could have been turned into another sundeck or outside bar (and Singapore certainly has no shortage of those). I reckon that commercially it would be less expensive to buy the produce, but to plan and maintain a small Eden in the hustle-bustle of Singapore has to be celebrated.
Credit: All images taken by James Veale.
For more insight on technology and food sustainability, see How Interactive Pantries Offer Smart Kitchen Solutions.