New breed of urban farmers turning flats and corridors into farms

Chai Hung Yin The New Paper AsiaOne 2 Dec 14;

You can find kai lan, xiao bai cai (little cabbage), kangkung and even tomatoes growing in these planter boxes which line a 10m long corridor outside this HDB flat in Tampines.

Mr Derrick Ng, 33, a hawker, can get about 5kg of vegetables each time he harvests.

That is enough for him to feed his family, share with neighbours and even use the vegetables in the fish soup he sells at his stall, also in Tampines.

He has recently planted sweet potato leaves.

With that, Mr Ng hopes to create a permanently verdant corridor.

"That's the magic of sweet potato leaves. The more I harvest, the more the leaves will grow. The whole corridor will be forever green," he says.

Farming at home happened by chance for Mr Ng, who grew up in the concrete jungle.

He began experimenting with growing vegetables at home in 2010 because he wanted to "provide good food for my family".

He explains: "My son, then three, kept falling sick and was always on cough syrup and antibiotics."

When he heard about food therapy - the practice of eating natural foods to boost immunity - he turned to buying organic food and vegetables for his son.

But it was not sustainable financially as the price of organic food was constantly rising, he says.


The same year, he quit as a regular in the army and started researching on farming.

At the same time, he took over his father's fish soup stall.

He first tried planting vegetables in his kitchen, complete with indoor lighting at different frequencies and plants imported from overseas.

"But it was very costly and not sustainable. The need for artificial sunlight means using energy, which created a bigger carbon footprint," he says.

He then experimented with shifting his farm outdoors, using recycled polystyrene boxes as his planters.

It worked. Mr Ng says: "And sunlight is free."

From four planter boxes, he expanded to eight, then 16 and now 30.

He can harvest 12 times a year. Vegetables usually take 30 days to grow.

He has had parents with young children visit his urban farm, even though they were not residents there.

"Greenery is therapeutic - it creates a less stressful environment for the neighbours," he says.

His neighbour, Mr Quah Sin Chuan, 37, finds it interesting that Mr Ng grows his vegetables organically.

He even offered the corridor space outside his flat for Mr Ng to expand his farm.

Mr Quah says: "I'm okay, as long as it doesn't block the way. I don't know how to farm and if there's greenery, it is quite nice.

"He always offers us organic vegetables."

Mr Ng hopes to extend his farm to cover the entire stretch of corridor outside two other neighbours' units.

And he is happy to share his labour of love with his neighbours and promote the kampung spirit.

He tells them to pick the vegetables whenever they need them for cooking: "If you want to throw a hotpot party, just go to the corridor and pick, as long as you don't destroy the plant.

"Show love to them because they are feeding you."