Urban farming boosts business for Singapore restaurant during Covid

 

The recent “circuit breaker” regulations put in place by the Singapore government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have led to most restaurants across Singapore having to close to diners. As in many cities, chefs and restaurateurs have had to react fast, finding innovative ways to keep business running.

 

At Open Farm Community in Singapore, along with offering takeaway dishes for delivery or self-collection, the restaurant has transformed itself into a grocery store. They offer natural wines by the bottle, cocktails in a bag, DIY meal kits, pickles and condiments, and fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, some of which have been grown in the restaurant’s impressive urban garden.

 

Tapioca root, turmeric, hibiscus, mulberries, kaffir lime, bilimbi (related to star fruit), Indian gooseberry, blue pea flowers, and laksa leaf are just some of the ingredients that Oliver Truesdale-Jutras, chef at Open Community Farm grows in the edible garden. The restaurant has also recently bought land adjacent to their restaurant on Minden Road with which they plan to create a full production farm.

 

From plants grown in his garden he serves “papayakraut” made from white papaya, which he ferments for three months, resulting in a dish reminiscent of sauerkraut. From torch ginger he makes ceviche with lemongrass, kaffir lime, chillies and garlic, and from roselle, a type of hibiscus, he creates jam that is served with his local Peking duck rillette.

Chef Oliver supplements his home-grown ingredients with produce procured from South East Asian farms, with the exception of some ethically sourced meats and dairy products that he imports from further afar. His mushrooms and pea shoots are from Kin Yan Agrotech Farm; golden tomatoes and lettuce are from Meod Farm; tomatoes, peppers and butterhead lettuce are from Genting Gardens; prawns are from Blu Aqua Seafood; herbs, cresses and flowers are from Edible Garden City; and many of his vegetables and fruits are from Quan Fa Organics.

 

“Our own edible garden is definitely organic. We practice composting, permaculture, insect farming and companion planting. Our garden is a space that showcases our principles and what we believe in, more so than a full production area. However, we will not be able to label our upcoming farm as organic – at least for the next three years – because the land was previously owned and run by the Singapore Land Authority and we do not know the kind of treatments that were done to the soil,” says Chef Oliver.

 

“As with other urban farmers, some of the challenges I face include how to improve the flavour of the produce, and how to achieve higher yields without using pesticides or unhealthy fertilisers.”

 

Chef Oliver believes that urban farming can have benefits beyond the professional kitchen – by helping people to reconnect with the land and with themselves as individuals.

 

“I think urban farming may have started out as a trend, when people thought it was interesting and fun to have their own home garden, but then it started to evolve, and people started seeing the benefits of having one. It allows them to be self-sufficient, helps minimise waste, and is somewhat a therapeutic activity for them,” he says.

 

When the pandemic is over, Open Farm Community will once run community-building and child-friendly educational programmes about farming and sustainability at the restaurant and farm.