As a small country where just one percent of land is used for farming, Singapore naturally has to rely on imports to feed itself. It does this very well: according to the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), Singapore ranks third globally on the Global Food Security Index, drawn up by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and is the leader in the Asia Pacific region.
But as the local food movement gains traction, Singaporeans are showing a greater interest in growing and consuming local produce. Over the past three years, a handful of farmers’ markets have been set up to link producers and customers, and raise awareness about Singapore’s budding agriculture sector. These markets are not just aimed at consumers, though; they’re also an opportunity for distributors or potential business partners to spot and discuss the latest food trends.
And they’re fun places to hang out. The markets can be held anywhere – from the bustle of a shopping mall to a humble parking lot – and feature a unique mix of vendors. Some markets screen vendors to ensure the quality and freshness of products and set rules about what can be sold, while others take a more relaxed and inclusive approach.
KCA, leading the way
The Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) is the pioneer of farmers’ markets and holds a quarterly gathering on Neo Tiew Lane, within the Kranji countryside vicinity. First held in 2014, the market is touted as “the only authentic farmers’ market in Singapore” and showcases local produce from some of KCA’s 40-odd members, including familiar names like Quan Fa Organic Farm, Citizen Farm, Bollywood Veggies and Yili Vegetation.
On top of local veggies, fruit, eggs and dairy, there are shops selling small-batch and handmade products such as hand-harvested honey, clayware, and even terrariums and live houseplants. It’s also not unusual to see food stalls run by well-known restaurants and cafes selling dishes made with farm-fresh produce.
The KCA views farmers’ markets as important for advancing its vision of food sustainability in Singapore. The markets help to encourage a vibrant agricultural industry that can create meaningful jobs, while at the same time educating Singaporeans about agriculture, nutrition and the environment.
In a February 2017 LinkedIn post, Mr Kenny Eng, president of the KCA, said farms were not just primary producers but also an important part of Singapore’s heritage, identity and culture. KCA hopes to not only preserve what little farmland Singapore still has, but also expand the area under cultivation. “The Kranji Countryside holds great potential for the development of a holistic and rounded agricultural industry that supports food production, education, tourism, conservation and community,” Eng wrote.
But Singapore’s land scarcity has also encouraged the rise of high-tech farming in the city-state. Many vendors at the KCA farmers’ market are employing the latest innovations to boost harvests and make maximum use of the available space. One such vendor is Sustenir Agriculture, which takes prides in its ability to grow kale – a cold-weather crop – using controlled environment agriculture (CEA) at its industrial unit in Admiralty.
CEA uses artificial lighting, specific nutrients, and tailored air and water environments to boost harvests. Indoor farming also eliminates hazards to do with outdoor field farming, such as pests and unfavourable sunlight conditions, takes around half the time to get a crop to harvest.
AVA gets in on the action
More recently, AVA – Singapore’s foremost authority on ensuring a safe and robust food supply – has launched the SG Farmers’ Market as part of its community outreach programme. Relatively new to the scene, the market’s first event was held in September last year at MyVillage@Serangoon Gardens.
On the weekend of February 10 more than 3,000 people attended the Chinese New Year-themed SG Farmers’ Market at the Singapore Turf Club, which featured 26 vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables and handpicked cherry tomatoes to farmed barramundi. Organised in collaboration with the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation, the event featured celebrity chef Daniel Koh, who demonstrated how to prepare celebratory dishes for the New Year festival with produce on sale at the market.
“Such an event provides an excellent platform for consumers to meet our local farmers directly, and to learn more about local produce,” says Ms Joycelyn Ng, director of AVA’s Community Outreach Department.“By supporting local produce, we can keep our local farms in business and be more self-sufficient as a country in providing a continuous supply of fresh and nutritious food for all. It will also spur our farms to embrace technology and become more productive to meet the increased demand.”
Ng says low awareness about Singapore’s agriculture industry is holding back its development. Some consumers don’t even know Singapore has farms, let alone where to purchase local produce. Others are reluctant to buy local products because they believe they’re going to be more expensive than imports.
To address these misundersandings and encourage consumers to buy local, AVA has rolled out a range of public education initiatives. As well as holding farmers’ markets, it has hosted roadshows and worked closely with partners such as supermarkets on local produce fairs, in-store branding and produce packaging.
“With more outreach initiatives and media publicity in recent years, we have observed that the public is more receptive to buy and support local produce,” says Ng.
Farm-fresh produce in the suburbs
Thanks to farmers’ markets, Singapore residents no longer have to venture as far as Kranji to get fresh produce and small-batch products. One example is the Farmers’ Market @ Central Singapore, which is organised by the Central Development Council (CDC) and held on the last Saturday of each month. The market aims to promote healthy eating, particularly among young adults and busy executives.
But the CDC also takes the concept into Singapore’s suburbs – in January, a market was held at the Whampoa Community Centre. “By bringing the market closer to you, we hope to build a community of like-minded folks who encourage each other in maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” says a CDC spokesperson.
Apart from the larger farmers’ markets, smaller-scale markets with a loyal following have also popped up in recent years. The Pantry Social Enterprise Café holds a regular market at Loewen Gardens. It focuses more on bespoke and small-batch foodstuffs, such as artisanal cheeses, baked goods, gourmet meats and fine wines.