It is hard work making any business profitable, let alone a social enterprise.
Despite this challenge, Edible Garden City (EGC) posted sales of a whopping S $ 1.4 million in 2018, which later increased to S $ 1.7 million in 2019. This was the highest value since the company was founded.
For a municipal farm founded eight years ago with just S $ 10,000 in seed capital, that's an impressive feat.
Founded by Björn Low, a former advertiser turned urban farmer, the social enterprise has been planting edible greens in Singapore's cityscape for almost a decade.
“By and large, our main social goal is to help all Singaporeans grow their own food. to heal the mind, body and soul as well as the environment, ”says Sarah Rodrigruez, Marketing Director at EGC.
“When we started EGC in 2012, urban agriculture was still in the foreground. Now Singaporeans are much more aware of local agriculture. They are more aware of the products we can grow, how we can grow them in our climate, where our farms are and who our farmers are. "
Why he chose to be a city builder
Running an urban farm takes a lot of work.
Björn spends his days in back-to-back meetings to get in touch with different teams, meet employees and other farmers.
Photo credit: Generation T.
“But when I have free time, I usually go straight into the garden,” says Björn. "It's also nice to come back to the farm on the weekends to do some gardening."
Björn fell in love with farming and farming while working as an advertising executive in the UK.
After a ten-year career in one of the fastest industries in the world, he decided to take a break that culminated in a four-year journey through Europe and Japan.
During this time Björn worked on organic farms and even considered buying his own farm at some point. It wasn't until he returned to Singapore in 2012 that he decided to start his urban farming business.
Given Singapore's urbanized cityscape and limited land space, this is a surprising career choice, but Björn is committed to his mission.
"In Singapore, not many people have had the privilege of visiting farms, so they have no connection to their food source," he explains.
“And we also have to understand that not everyone is interested in urban agriculture, gardening or sustainability issues. However, we all have a role to play. "
Building a million dollar agricultural company
EGC is best known for its urban gardens, which have installed over 200 across Singapore in just seven years. These include buildings such as Marina Bay Sands, Resort World Sentosa, and the roof of Raffles City.
Photo credit: Look Box Living
The social enterprise has also launched its “proudest initiative yet,” a civic farm that grows and sells local produce from a shabby abandoned prison at 60 Jalan Penjara.
It also employs the socially disadvantaged and works with the Autism Resource Center and the Down Syndrome Association of Singapore.
In addition to Citizen Farm, EGC has three production farms in Queenstown, in Raffles City Shopping Center and in Funan, where up to 50 types of vegetables, fruits and edible flowers are grown.
EGC uses a balance between Agritech and natural farming methods to grow products. According to Sarah, natural farming is the most sustainable way of farming as it keeps the soil productive for future generations.
Tech is only used selectively to grow crops that require more care and control, and overcome constraints like space or climate, she added.
These include vegetables like kale or komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) grown in air-conditioned interiors with stacked growth points.
Have local produce delivered to your doorstep
Citizen Farm's products are sold directly to individuals and businesses. Over 40 local restaurants and bars, including Labyrinth, CandleNut and Chef & # 39; s Table, source their ingredients from Citizen Farm.
Their products are even poured into Spa Esprit's skin care products.
Individuals can purchase a Citizen Box of local produce directly from the farm.
A 12 week subscription costs S $ 470.80 (up to S $ 39 per week) and offers you a wide variety of freshly grown local vegetables, from Okinawa spinach to red mustard frills to bok choy, kailan and more.
Photo credit: Citizen Farm
"In addition to growing food and building gardens, we've expanded the range of tours and workshops, as well as the cultivation of kits and even lifestyle products," says Sarah.
"Over the years we have understood the importance of having a diversified business model that not only focuses on food production but also actively seeks to raise awareness of Singapore's local agriculture."
In the near future, EGC will study therapeutic horticulture to help alleviate the social problems of Singapore's rapidly aging population.
"Gardening has incredible physical, mental, and emotional benefits, and has been scientifically proven to improve the health and well-being of all people, from stressed office workers to the elderly," she added.
Reach Singapore's “30 by 30” goals
Singapore has launched an initiative to increase the proportion of locally supplied food to 30 percent by 2030.
The pandemic only catalyzed the initiative. The government announced a S $ 30 million investment in local farms in early April this year, and EGC will be among the key players working towards these goals.
"The government and industry together are aiming for 30 by 30, and that's a realistic target that we're optimistic about," says Sarah.
“More and more Singaporeans are supporting local agriculture and choosing to buy local products over imported varieties. In order for urban agriculture to flourish in Singapore, Singaporeans need to recognize its importance. This would lead to a demand for local products, a strong workforce and increased investment in the sector. "
Image credit: DBS
There are currently underutilized green spaces that could be activated as farms. In Singapore we must first "maximize our space, talent and capabilities".
"The technology is so advanced that we could probably grow any crop here in Singapore."
"(But) the goal shouldn't be to produce 100 percent of our food locally, but to allocate the optimal amount of resources to grow a comfortable amount locally while diversifying imports."
Grow What You Want To Eat
One of EGC's goals is to teach Singaporeans how to grow their own produce.
The main goal is to grow products that you love to eat, says Sarah. The second tip is to grow products that will work well in the given conditions.
"For example, if you don't like to eat women's fingers, don't grow it because you are not as motivated to care and you will not enjoy the crops as much either."
Then think about where your plant will grow, how much sunlight your plant will receive, and how often you can water it. This will help narrow down your choices.
"Aside from the lady's fingers, mints, spinach, tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, pumpkins, Bak Choy and Kai Lan are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our climate," explains Sarah.
"Every Singaporean can do our part to make Singapore more food-resistant," she continues.
“These efforts are not limited to buying local products or your own herb garden. This could be done through volunteering, reducing food waste, or even patronizing restaurants that buy from local farmers. "
"We hope to help each individual to make their own contribution."
Selected image source: Epicure Asia