To realise her dream of becoming a farmer in the urban jungle of Singapore — less than 10 percent of land here is set aside for agriculture — Danielle Chan knew she had to put on her creative thinking cap.
“My co-founder Teo Hwa Kok and I explored different spaces and felt that multi-storey carpark rooftops would be unique! These spaces are underused, but being wide, open and located near locals living in the heartlands, they are suitable for urban farming! How’s that for reimagination?”
Spanning 1,800 sqm, Citiponics grows up to 25 different types of produce such as nai bai (milk cabbage), cai xin (Chinese cabbage), mixed amaranth spinach, cucumber, bittergourd, ginger and even herbs like basil and spearmint. Also available here is Georgina lettuce, the farm’s own cross-breed of celtuce and romaine.
To help the team achieve its monthly production target of four tonnes — which can feed 16,000 people — is Citiponics’ proprietary technology known as the Aqua Organic System (AOS). It doesn’t just simplify farming into three steps of seeding, transplanting and harvesting, as Chan points out, the vertical nature also makes the process seven times more productive than traditional farming.
Here’s how AOS works: water from a water tank is pumped into a network of 400 racks — each tubing is filled with tiny fired clay pebbles where the seeds are planted — before it flows back into the tank and gets recycled within the system.
Chan elaborates: “By keeping every drop of water in a closed loop, water consumption is minimised. We use only one-tenth of that required for hydroponics farming and one-hundredth for traditional farming.”
The constant movement of water prevents mosquito breeding (along with the absence of soil and pesticide) to make AOS suitable for farming within residential neighbourhoods.
“We wanted to be able to create positive value beyond providing farm-fresh produce to the local community, and provide jobs for senior citizens in the vicinity,” she adds. “That’s why AOS was designed to be so simple that someone in his 80s and/or without agricultural experience can contribute to food production.”
Up until Covid-19 struck, Citiponics, which is run by a five-member team, hired five to six residents from the AWWA Senior Community Home to help with the harvest every fortnight.
“You know what people say about age being just a number? I agree! The oldest in the group is over 80 and the youngest, over 70. They have brought so much joy to the farm with their positive attitude and willingness to help. I’ve learnt so much from them.”
Chan also takes pride in her job because it allows her to help change mindsets, especially among younger people. She laughs good-naturedly when we confess that we aren’t fans of greens: “I hosted a few kids who didn’t enjoy eating their greens, but after self-harvesting the plants, they decided to start tasting them. Seeing them learn to appreciate veggies and enabling them to understand where their food comes from makes what I do both special and meaningful.”
Grab fresh produce from Citiponics on GrabMart, or Whatspp +65 97770520 to enquire about delivery.
The story first appeared in the November 2020 issue of A Magazine.