Newly minted tourist attraction, Kranji Farms, is not an official point of interest. And it has two new signs breathing life into it.
The brown direction signs, which officially mark the area in north-western Singapore near Johor as a point of interest, went upin Jalan Bahar and Kranji Road last November.
Operators in the 400ha cluster, which is home to more than 100 farms and straddles Lim Chu Kang and Choa Chu Kang, tell The Straits Times the road signs are good for business.
More importantly, they say their collective efforts in rebranding the area, known to insiders as Kranji Countryside, have borne fruit.
Ms Chelsea Wan, 33, director of Jurong Frog Farm, says she has received more inquiries from curious city slickers. “People are starting to recognise this place,” she adds.
Her farm is one of the 18 in Kranji which are open to the public. Of these, at least 16 offer tours. The tours, which last between 20 minutes and four hours, cost $6 to $23 each.
At Jurong Frog Farm, a tour which costs $10 lets you feed frogs, sample frog legs and hashima, a delicacy made from fatty tissue found in a frog’s fallopian tube.
Over at Hay Dairies, Singapore’s only goat farm, you can see goats being milked every morning for free.
Kranji Countryside Express, a bus service launched in 2005, plies between Kranji MRT station and some farms within the cluster. The fare is $3 and you can hop on and off in the area within a day.
Those who want a guided tour of various farms can contact Mr William Ho, 50, a quail egg farmer and Kranji Farms’ only licensed tour guide, who has been leading tours in the area since 1997.
Even if you arrive at a farm without a tour booked, you can pick up fresh produce or enjoy a farm-to-table meal.
For example, Kin Yan Agrotech sells fresh organic mushrooms and wheatgrass for $2 to $6 a packet.
The brown direction signs, endorsed and approved by the Singapore Tourism Board and the Land Transport Authority, were put up after much lobbying by the Kranji Countryside Association.
Set up in 2005, the non-profit group has 40 members and champions the efforts of the farmers in the area.
It has been encouraging farmers to host tours to boost the area’s agri-tourism offerings.
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But for visitors who want to do more than a day trip to the area, two operators in Kranji offer accommodation – D’Kranji Farm Resort, which opened in 2008, and Gardenasia, which introduced its farmstay villas last year.
There are also at least five farms with food and beverage outlets.
Says Mr Kenny Eng, 42, president of Kranji Countryside Association: “We have a farming community here, but not many people know about us. We wanted to make it trendy and cool.”
He is the director of nature-based events company Gardenasia in Neo Tiew Crescent, which is part of the Nyee Phoe Group, a landscape architecture firm founded in 1911.
The association has held various events to draw visitors.
In June 2014, the group held the first Kranji Countryside Farmers’ Market, where 13 Kranji farms and three urban farms outside the area and 16 other vendors came together to sell fresh produce.
The first edition drew 4,000 visitors, who bought all the stocks within an hour. Today, the popular event is held every three months and attracts 8,000 to 10,000 people each time.
Then in May last year, the association launched the two-day Singapore Farm Festival, which drew 12,000 people.
Held at Mr Eng’s Gardenasia, it featured more than 50 stalls selling fresh produce and locally sourced artisanal products. People could also get up close to farm animals such as goats, quails and frogs.
The second edition, slated for October, will be held in the city, where the association hopes to draw a bigger crowd of at least 25,000 people. The venue has not been confirmed. It is also expected to include stalls by farms overseas.
Students and corporate groups make up the bulk of visitors to the farms on weekdays. On weekends, families and nature-lovers flock to the area.
Ms Wan says: “There has been a change in mindset. Families find that they don’t want to just go to the malls. Here, they can sample fresh produce and meet the farmers.”
Along with three others under the age of 40 who work on their family farms in Kranji, Ms Wan set up a youth wing of the Kranji Countryside Association, called the Singapore Young Farmers, last year.
It promotes Singapore agriculture and farming culture and organises regular events to draw more young visitors to the countryside.
Judging from visitorship figures, it looks like the efforts of these groups are paying off.
Hay Dairies, founded in 1988, now gets about 300 to 400 visitors on weekends, up from about 100 to 200 three years ago.
At 16-year-old Bollywood Veggies, which has a bistro, about 15,000 people a month came through the gates last year, up from 6,000 a month in 2010.
D’Kranji Farm Resort’s 35 villas were running at almost full capacity during the one-week school break last month, with Singaporeans making up about 80 per cent of the guests.
This, says its business development executive Nicholas Lai, 27, is common during the school holidays.
While Kranji Farms is fast gaining popularity, Mr Eng says the aim is not just about transforming the cluster into a tourist destination, but to keep the industry sustainable.
He says:“Tourism is just one part of the business model. We don’t want this to become another Sentosa.”
Indeed, the future is looking uncertain for some of the farmers.
The farmland leases for 62 of them will run out starting next year, and they do not know if they will be granted extensions.
Executive assistant Farah Amalina, 29, is one urbanite who will be sad to see the farms go.
She visited the area for the first time last week and her farm-totable meal at Bollywood Veggies was a departure from the “usual poached eggs and avocado toast at an artisanal hipster coffee place”.
“I love that it is far away from the bustle of the city.”
What: You can visit the farm for free but groups of 20 or more can opt for a guided tour to learn more about the operations of Hay Dairies.
When: Farm opens 9am to 4pm. Tours take place at 9, 9.30 and 10am daily. Closed on Tuesday except if it is a public holiday
Where: Hay Dairies, 3 Lim Chu Kang, Agrotech Park Lane 4
Admission: $3.21 a person. Booking must be made one to two weeks in advance
What: While you can visit the farm for free, visitors can learn more about the farm on 30-minute guided tours on weekends.
When: Tours take place at 3pm on Saturday and Sunday. Bollywood Veggies is open from 9.30am to 6.30pm from Wednesday to Friday; 8am to 6.30pm on weekend and public holiday. Closed on Monday and Tuesday
Where: 100 Neo Tiew Road
Admission: $5 a person
JURONG FROG FARM
What: Families can explore the farm for free or they can opt for the 35-minute Gabbe’s Family Tour, where they can learn about the 35-year-old farm’s history, take pictures with the frogs and sample deep-fried frog meat and a hashima dessert.
When: The farm is open from 9am to 5.30pm on weekend and public holiday. Closed on Monday unless it is a public holiday. Tuesday to Friday are for tours only
Where: Jurong Frog Farm, 51 Lim Chu Kang Lane 6 (Plot 56)
Admission: $10 a person for the Gabbe’s Family Tour, minimum charge of $40 a tour, $8 a person for a group of more than five. Groups of more than 20 people must book in advance.
SINGAPORE YOUNG FARMERS: FROGGY RIBBIT AFFAIR
What: At this tour meant for those aged 30 and below, participants can learn more about the daily operations of the Jurong Frog Farm. Limited to 20 participants.
When: April 24, 9am to noon
Where: Jurong Frog Farm
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HOW TO GET THERE AND AROUND
While it is most convenient to drive or cycle around Kranji Farms, you can also opt for the Kranji Countryside Express shuttle bus, which runs daily, including on public holiday.
The service runs from Kranji MRT station to selected farms in the Lim Chu Kang area. It costs $3 for a round trip and you can hop on and off the bus within the same day.
It runs on a fixed schedule but at irregular intervals so plan ahead to cut waiting times. For the bus schedule, go to kranjicountryside.com.
From Choa Chu Kang MRT station, there are also buses by fish farm Qian Hu Corporation and Farmart Centre, which offers dining options, fresh produce for sale and farm animals that you can feed or observe up close.
Here is a suggested itinerary for a two-day, one-night stay at Kranji Farms.
9.30am: Take the Kranji Express from Kranji MRT station.
10.05am: Arrive at Hay Dairies in time to see goats being milked. Pick up a bottle of fresh goat’s milk.
11.35am: Leave Hay Dairies for Jurong Frog Farm. There, you can feed the frogs and sample some frog meat.
12.20pm: Leave Jurong Frog Farm for Bollywood Veggies. After walking around the farm, you can have lunch at Poison Ivy Bistro.
Specialities include The Warrior’s Platter, which comes with chicken curry, vegetables and fish fillets ($20 for small platter, $40 for large), and farm-fresh fig tea ($2).
2pm: Leave Bollywood Veggies for Gardenasia. Check in at Gardenasia Farmstay Villas, which has facilities such as a tennis court, a children’s playground and a swimming pool. There are four villas forup to four guests each.
Gardenasia Farmstay Villas cost $350++ a night on Friday and Saturday, and $280++ on Wednesday and Thursday. They are not available on Monday and Tuesday. A 15-per cent surcharge applies on public holidays.
3pm: Explore the manicured gardens or pickup a potted plant at Gardenasia.
Walkabout 100m along Neo Tiew Crescent to KinYan Agrotech and see how organic pea sprouts and wheat grass are grown. You can also buy fresh wheatgrass juice ($1), fresh cactus ($6 a kg) and sample free fresh cactus chicken soup.
4.15pm: Take the bus to Kranji Marshes, Singapore’s largest freshwater marshland. Try to spot birds including endangered species such as the purple heron.
6.33pm: Leave Kranji Marshes and head back to Gardenasia via bus. Head to Bistro by Gardenasia and enjoy fusion dishes such as Char-Grilled Ribeye Horfun ($20) and Gardenasia Mee Goreng Pasta ($15). Rest for the night.
8am: Have breakfast at Bistro by Gardenasia.
9.15am: Take the Kranji Countryside Express (you will have to buy a new ticket) to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and explore the mangrove forests.
11.10am: Catch the bus back to Gardenasia and check out of the villa.
12.45pm: Leave Gardenasia and head back to Kranji MRT.
If you still want to explore Kranji Farms, you can head to Choa Chu Kang MRT and visit Farmart Centre to buy some fresh farm produce such as quail eggs, or drop by Qian Hu Corporation for a fish spa experience ($10 for adults and $5 for children for 30 minutes).
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline ‘Farm fresh’.
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