Community farm for Clementi residents launched

Alvina Soh Channel NewsAsia 3 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: Residents who have been illegally using state land at Clementi Avenue 4 for farming now have an official community farm.

The farm was launched on Sunday by Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, and Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency, Sim Ann.

The farm comes after the Bukit Timah Citizens' Consultative Committee successfully applied for a three-year temporary occupation licence for the plot of state land.

It cost about S$60,000 to set up the farm.

For five years, laboratory manager Lester Yeong and his retiree father indulged their passion for gardening in their Clementi neighbourhood.

But their efforts were given the thumbs down as they were farming on state land.

Mr Yeong and other illegal farmers were asked by the authorities to clear out within two weeks in March last year, after some residents complained of smoke from the burning of leaves.

He said: "Looking at all the folks, it spurred me on to do something for everyone. I made the initiative to gather everyone, approach the RC for this community project to go on so that at least the folks from this area will be able to continue this hobby at their convenience."

The Bukit Timah Citizens' Consultative Committee then obtained an extension from the authorities on their behalf.

Ms Sim said: "The objective is to ensure that this is for wider community benefit. What's very important is that I think including the farmers, the opportunity to regularise what used to be unauthorised activities. We saw the opportunity for more people to come in and I think the farmers were very receptive of that."

Users of the community farm will pay an annual maintenance fee of S$60 for their individual plots.

Residents originally involved in unauthorised planting were invited to take up a plot each, while remaining plots were allocated through ballot to other interested residents.

Mr Yeong gets a 32-square metre plot to grow his produce.

He said: "The kids love it. There was one point of time, we were here every evening, from about 5pm to 7pm. They will just go around running, playing with water, catching insects, helping to weed. They enjoy this experience that they can't get in the classroom."

The land will be divided into 30 plots and fitted with amenities for gardening.

Farmers will also get water supply and a lighted footpath, leading from Blocks 301 and 305 Clementi Ave 4 to the community farm and the park connector parallel to the Ulu Pandan Canal.

Bukit Timah Citizens' Consultative Committee is also advising farmers against the burning of leaves and breeding of mosquito habitats.

- CNA/xq

Clementi state land now a community farm
Grassroots effort key in helping residents keep their once-illegal plots
Grace Chua Straits Times 4 Mar 13;

A PATCH of land in Clementi that was once used illegally by residents is now a community farm in which radishes, chillies, sweet potatoes and corn grow.

The farm, behind Block 305 Clementi Avenue 4 in the Bukit Timah division of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, was officially opened by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and grassroots adviser Sim Ann yesterday.

Fruit and vegetables once thrived on the state land between Clementi Avenue 4 and Sungei Ulu Pandan, where labourers and retirees also gathered to chit-chat near a small shrine they had built. Other farmers had installed ponds and an outhouse.

But last March, other residents complained of burning leaves and mosquito breeding, which prompted the Singapore Land Authority to ask the farmers to go.

The Bukit Timah grassroots network stepped in to work with residents, farmers and government agencies.

They came up with a plan for the Bukit Timah citizens' consultative committee (CCC) to rent the land from the state on a yearly basis for community farming.

Today, users pay $5 a month to use the site's 30 plots, each 8m by 4m and allocated by ballot to existing and new farmers.

While some structures like the shrine and outhouse had to go, footpaths, lights, water points and a tool shed were added and work was done in late January.

The bill of about $60,000 was funded partly by the North West Community Development Council and partly by private donors.

Mr Michael Chia, vice-chairman of the CCC, said wet weather pushed back the completion date from late last year, and construction had to skirt an active gas pipe running underground.

The CCC also advises farm users on how to prevent mosquito breeding, and not to burn leaves.

Ms Sim, who is Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education as well as Communications and Information, said: "I would say it's a win-win outcome, and it was possible with a lot of legwork and persuasion on the part of the grassroots (organisations) and a lot of support from agencies."

Mr Lester Yeong, 35, whose family tended a plot at the old farm and has the use of a plot now, welcomes the cleaner environment. "With water available, we don't need to wait for rain," he said.

IT professional Toh Boon Chew, 42, who is a newcomer to the community farm, said: "I've gained some knowledge from the existing farmers."