Community farmers reaping fruits of their labour

Retiree Wansi Dahri spends seven hours a day toiling under the hot sun.

The 79-year-old former fireman and paramedic diligently ploughs the soil and waters his crops, such as okra and sweet potato, so long as the weather is good.

"It keeps me fit and gives me something to do in the day," he said, adding that he used to help out on his parents' farm when he was a teenager.

This picture may hark back to the kampung days, but it is a daily occurrence deep in the heart of a Housing Board estate.

The community farm was launched six months ago. It comprises 30 plots measuring 8m by 4m each, located behind Block 305, Clementi Avenue 4. Farmers pay $60 a year to lease a plot.

Before this, more than 20 people had been illegally farming at the site, which was once shrouded by thick overgrowth. Others gathered to chat near a small shrine, while ponds had also been dug.

Lawyer Michael Chia, vice-chairman of Bukit Timah Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC), said this lasted for more than a decade, until the strip of land, which borders a railway track and was then owned by Malaysia, was returned to Singapore in a land swop agreement.

In 2011, residents complained to the Singapore Land Authority about burning leaves and mosquito breeding, prompting eviction notices.

The CCC stepped in to find a middle ground among the authorities, residents and farmers. It rented the land from the state on a yearly basis, converting it into an open community farm.

Other benefits followed, including a footpath leading to the Sungei Ulu Pandan park connector, water points and a tool shed.

The cost of about $60,000 was borne partly by the North West Community Development Council and partly by private donors.

Interest was overwhelming and the 30 plots had to be balloted, said Mr Chia. Farmers now range from working professionals in their 20s to retirees in their 80s. The fruits of their labour are commonly distributed among the community of farmers, as well as to neighbours and friends.

"We don't need to buy vegetables so often any more," said retiree Toh Beng Choon, 68. He helps to tend the farm for his IT professional son Boon Chew, 42, on weekdays.

Members of the community chip in to share costs for equipment such as hoses and fertiliser, and also dish out advice to one another. The younger Mr Toh said: "Initially it was quite tough because it was just a blank plot and I did not know what to do with it, but people help each other out here."

But farmers say the site could still be improved, wishing for better-quality soil, and amenities such as toilets. Ms Naprang Suk, 46, said: "Because of the poor soil, we had to buy fertiliser, which can be quite expensive."

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