Urban farming in Singapore has moved into a new, high-tech phase

Urban farms have always been popular with gardeners in Singapore, especially those who volunteer at neighbourhood community gardens.

Urban farming has become more high-tech and, well, urban.

Urban farmers have started growing food in restaurants and taken over unused rooftop carpark spaces to set up garden plots.

The gardening enthusiasts in the office have designed a photogenic farm, filled with lush greenery and decorated with stylish outdoor furniture.

When it comes to starting an urban farm, creating a good-looking set-up isn’t usually top on the to-do list.

A home-grown award-winning architecture practice known for working greenery into its buildings, such as Parkroyal on Pickering hotel, urban farms can be useful and pretty.

The firm used the rooftop of its Hongkong Street office shophouse as a test bed for a 2,100 sq ft organic urban farm with more than 100 species of edible plants, including kangkong, basil, pandan, dill and bittergourd, which are shared among the staff.

A gardening workstation for potting and propagation and a large tank that collects rainwater to water the plants are kept out of sight at the back of this urban farm showpiece.

In a corner of Eng Kong Cheng Soon community garden in Lorong Kismis stands an industrial-looking set-up that contrasts sharply with the thriving greens in the soil. The entire set-up is shaded by a plastic canopy that lets sunlight in, but keeps rain out.

This hybrid aquaponics system has yielded about 6kg of vegetables, such as butterhead lettuce, spring onion and Chinese cabbage, in the last two months.

The bountiful harvest is the result of a final-year project by three engineering students at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Aquaponics combines aquaculture, the raising of edible fish, with hydroponics, growing vegetables without soil.

Associate professor Lee Kim Seng of NUS’ mechanical engineering department, who supervised the project, hopes more people will take on urban farming.

At a multi-storey carpark rooftop in Kang Ching Road, 164 “growing towers” covered in leafy green vegetables rise to the sky. Standing at 1.8m tall and lined up next to one another, these gardening systems are the result of years of research and development by Mr Teo Hwa Kok, 55, chairman of organic farming company Citiponics.

They have been used to produce about 25 types of vegetables and herbs, such as butterhead lettuce, spinach, dill, kailan, sweet basil and mizuna, a member of the mustard family. At the base of each tower is a tank filled with water and nutrients. The mixture is pumped up to the top of each tower and flows down by gravity through a series of seven pipes arranged in a zig-zag manner.

Mr Teo has been involved in the farming business for a long time, though he was not always a farmer. The Malaysian moved to Singapore in 1987 to work for a pesticide company.  He quit in 1993 and set up his own venture selling raw materials used to make pesticides.

But as he read more reports about pesticides being misused and affecting food safety, he started to look into organic farming. It did not take off and he gave it up about two years later.

About seven years ago, he decided to try organic farming again and came up with the prototype for the growing towers. Citiponics has taken its growing towers to China and Malaysia.

Source: Urban farming in Singapore has moved into a new, high-tech phase