The hydroponic home grower
Shirley Yong's hydroponic facility. Photo: Her World
Shirley Yong is no farmer, but she is responsible for more than 350 edible leafy plants that sit in an air-conditioned hut on the ground floor of her executive condominium in Sengkang. Shirley, 41, is one of four residents growing hydroponic vegetables in this space measuring roughly 5x2.5m – which she currently rents at $10 for two months. Her home is the first in Singapore to include a hydroponic facility in its building plans. The vegetables she’s growing include xiao bai cai, kai lan and nai bai, and lately, she’s been experimenting with cauliflower and broccoli too.
As a stay-at-home mum of two children aged eight and 10, she had read about harmful pesticides in imported vegetables, so she stuck to buying local produce. And now, she can grow vegetables herself to ensure that they are free of chemicals.
Shirley says she only needs to check in on her plants three times a week, and top up the water source with a nutrient solution. It takes just 20 minutes each time. She harvests all her leafy veggies at once, and this lasts her family about a week or two. They then have to go without the hydroponic veggies for a couple of weeks before the next harvest. Still, Shirley makes sure she supplements her family’s vegetable intake with store-bought stuff like broccoli and carrots, which don’t grow well in a hydroponic environment.
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The wildling who lives off the land
Photo: Esmonde Luo
Esmonde Luo, 30, is on a mission to educate people about the flavours that can be found around them – if they’d only stop to look. Since 2016, he’s been leading small groups around forested areas in Singapore to teach them to forage for food. During each tour, which lasts a couple of hours, he shows them how to identify native edible plants, including a flower with a fiery kick similar to Sichuan pepper.
Esmonde, who works as a freelance landscaper, does not organise regular paid tours at present, and is content to take people on nature walks as and when he’s available. So far, he’s conducted more than 10 such tours.
He also takes a more extreme approach once every few months, when he packs a tent and some supplies, and sets up camp in the forested areas of Lim Chu Kang, Mandai and Pulau Ubin. He’s careful to avoid restricted zones.
“I eat only what I have caught or foraged. So I don’t eat if I don’t find anything,” Esmonde says. He picks wild cucumbers and catches crickets, which he then fries in oil. Occasionally, he’ll catch a catfish. “You truly experience nature when you draw sustenance directly from the earth,” he says. By submitting himself to the elements, he’s become more mindful of what he’s putting in his body.