Grow veggies, and help low-income students

Grow veggies, and help low-income students
Dr Teo Ho Pin (right) with Pocket Greens co-founder Eng Ting Ting and retired cleaner Thor Tiak Soon at the vertical farm in Bukit Panjang on 3 December 2014. The farm initiative allows people to rent 20 trays of compost, slotted into a rack, for $50 a month, with 40 per cent of the rent going to a fund for students from low-income families.

SINGAPORE - Grow an education fund for the needy while growing your own vegetables.

That is what some residents in Bukit Panjang have been doing at a new "vertical farm" set up in the area in August.

Residents can rent 20 trays of compost, slotted into a rack, for $50 a month, and 40 per cent of the rent goes to a fund for students from low-income families.

The initiative is a partnership between agriculture company Pocket Greens and North West Community Development Council (CDC).

The donated rent goes to the North West Student Support Fund, which needs $550,000 a year to help about 2,500 students.

For Pocket Greens - so named as it aims to turn pockets of space into gardens - this was a natural thing to do.

Company co-founder Eng Ting Ting, 49, said: "I have another agriculture company, and we have been working with a lot of schools. They buy our growing kits, and their children learn how vegetables are grown.

"We know every school has some needy students, and we always include extra sets so these can be given to students who cannot afford to buy the growing kits."

Ms Eng, whose parents own an orchid farm, also wanted to make growing plants easier for people so as to cultivate their interest in nature and farming.

One attractive feature of the vertical farm is that people can generally reap their harvests in 10 days. With an automated irrigation system, they need only sow the seeds and return later to harvest.

The plants grown are "baby greens", and are harvested as young vegetables. These include red radish, sweet pea (dou miao), sunflower sprouts and broccoli.

The farm now has 48 racks, and has room for 80 in total. About 15 have been rented out.

"Given that this is a relatively new concept, the response has been very encouraging. Many people are curious and intrigued that they can grow veggies without toiling in the sun," said Ms Eng.

"We have had hardcore gardeners, and we have also had parents who do this with their children as a family bonding session."

Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mayor of North West CDC and the MP for Bukit Panjang, said the initiative promotes a culture of giving back.

"Many of my residents came here from (farms in) Lim Chu Kang and Ama Keng, so they have experience in farming and different skill sets," he said.

"Companies can share their different farming techniques with residents so there is a transfer of knowledge and skills."

Residents also give back to the needy in the community.

Retired cleaner Thor Tiak Soon, 61, who had adopted two racks at the vertical farm, said: "It is a good arrangement. I can grow vegetables while helping others."

Pocket Greens also wants to attract the younger generation to farming, and its efforts are starting to bear fruit.

Two undergraduates work part-time at the farm. Ms Tan Hwee Jie, 21, and Ms Toh Jia Hui, 20, have been helping to man a shop and guide customers on how to grow their vegetables.

Ms Tan said: "Our parents used to grow vegetables in Lim Chu Kang. I think we should learn more about that."

Ms Eng said more children should be exposed to the natural environment. "Some children who come here have never seen grasshoppers or earthworms, which I think is quite sad.

"We need to do more so that we (can) become a greener place."


This article was first published on December 8, 2014.
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