Singlit spotlight: Urban farmer's first book is an inspiring, funny cheat sheet

PHOTO: Instagram/Christopher Leow

On more than a few occasions, urban farmer Christopher Leow has found himself in a s***ty situation — figuratively and quite literally. Just peruse this extract from his first book, The Freestyle Farmer:

I was in deep s***. About twelve inches in, to be exact. My feet had sunken into the loose pile of horse manure, it had already spilled into the crevices into my socks. I could feel little clumps at the base of my foot every time I twisted, this was too close for comfort.

So why did Christopher — who is a Head Farmer at social enterprise Edible Garden City, and is in charge of a rooftop farm that will support a new farm-to-table concept — share this poopy paragraph with us (not without begging our pardon for doing so)?

"I must apologise if it's too graphic, haha! I could clearly recall this moment happening — it was my first-ever farming activity. I too thought it was gross; as a city boy, it felt like something beneath me. But over time, I started to appreciate how important good shit was in growing food," says Christopher.

"It also was one of those shocking moments that helped me change my preconceived notions about social constructs and perspectives that I had been educated in all my life. For example, in our culture, shit is perceived as taboo and unhygienic, whereas in other cultures, it is highly valued and seen as a source of life — by acting as fuel and fertiliser. I realised that having a holistic view of things makes us better humans."

We speak to the 34-year-old about his experience contributing to Singapore Literature with this inspiring and funny 177-page memoir; the option of buying his book with a cool AF Grow Kit; and his book signing session this weekend (March 19 and 20) at Nutopia, a rooftop garden.

Hey Chris! Congrats on the launch of your book! How does it feel having your first written work finally published?

Thanks! To be honest... I'm freaking proud. This book has really come to life. I really am in love with the incredible hand-drawn illustrations by my talented friend Iyn Huii!

What was the experience like as a first-time author? Worth repeating? Or are you just happy gardening?

Dude, it was damn shag! It took me two years to complete it. I rewrote the whole damn manuscript more than 15 times. Writing was not natural to me. To add to the misery, it required so much focus and attention — traits which I severely lack! Having said that, never say never!

What period of your life does this memoir capture?

The timeframe of the journey commences from my optimistic youthful days in university, and continues to my slightly less youthful present day. It's my origin story of how I fell in love with urban farming. It follows me through my free-spirted travel adventures, and explores my connection to food through my various culinary stints, leading up to me being an urban-farming practitioner.

The title of your book is The Freestyle Farmer. How does that term encapsulate who you are?

A freestyle farmer is about taking an organic (sorry, I just had to use this pun!) approach to growing food. It is to acknowledge the constraints that exist, and to be innovative enough to work around them to find solutions. An example was when I almost had to give up my guerrilla garden, but found a way to turn the situation around — and created Nutopia!

It is also about being spontaneous and adaptive. You can plan all you want but nature has its final say when it comes to things like the weather. In surfer speak, ride the wave, don't fight it!

I am a believer that if you want to make a difference in the world, you have to do things that have not been done before. That means that you have to be willing to take some risks, think outside the box, and truly embrace the journey. Nobody knows any better, and you just have to wing it.

How will your book help or educate those interested in getting into the world of food production in Singapore?

For Singaporeans who love their 10-Year Series, I provided a simple cheat sheet giving advice to anyone who intends to start an urban farm.

Also, I think through my stories, I speak about the challenges and pitfalls of growing your own food as well as how I overcame those challenges, and succeeded. I hope that I made it somewhat educational in a humorous and relatable way through the 'surfer-dude-ish' Chris voice!

We notice that there's an option to purchase your book as a set that includes a Grow Kit. We're very intrigued! Tell us more about this grow kit.

A father and son pair, Calvin and Dylan, created One-Kind-Block, a Lego-like modular planter box that even a one-year-old can assemble to grow edible plants. It can be easily attached to railings, or stuck on walls, making it suitable for HDB flats and walkways.

Anyone can now grow food anywhere! I want to support this project because it resonates with my vision of seeing every available space in Singapore turned into an edible garden. It's designed and manufactured in Singapore — support local we must!

You’re having a book signing session (which we have to book our slot for) on March 19 and 20 at Nutopia, the rooftop garden you manage opposite Blk 143 in Serangoon North Ave 1. What can we expect at the session?

It will be cosy and intimate. I'll stuff some interesting herbs into your mouth, and wax lyrical about my home-made compost. Ultimately, I just want to say "hi" and have a conversation with people who are interested in gardening and farming. The garden is not gated and free for anyone to harvest produce. If there's enough to go around, you can take cuttings or plants — but no promises as the garden is in a renewal state!

Get your copy of The Freestyle Farmer ($19.90) here and the Book and Grow Kit Set ($68.90) here.

Book your slot to attend Christopher's book signing session on March 19 or 20 here.

READ ALSO: Jamie Chua shares her newfound love for gardening and farming, says she's trying to breed chickens for her friends

This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.