The Farmers literally live up to their last name after multiple homestay trips in Europe, where they were inspired by the hosts who harvested fresh produce in their gardens.
Besides farming in her family home’s garden at Begonia Avenue, you can find Justine Ong-Farmer tending lovingly to the beans and courgettes grown on the side of the road outside the terrace house.
“My neighbours are totally fine with it,” she laughs. Just last month, she dug up the corner patch on the side of the road and re-fertilised the soil with compost because the ground was so stale.
You’ll know exactly what goes into your food if you dine with the Farmers. Right: Justine Ong-Farmer (27) conducts a meal prep session, where she explains how to pair local herbs together.
But she couldn’t have done it without the help of Scott, her English husband who’s an operations manager at a regional law firm.
The National Environment Agency is taking well to her efforts, says Justine. “They were quite happy to see us growing stuff on that patch.”
Justine encourages her neighbours to pick the herbs and try them, as she believes that sharing her produce will encourage others to grow their own.
“No one’s gonna care about my plants if I just keep them for myself,” she adds. “I also want people to try and know the taste of fresh vegetables. When they finally understand, I get a sense of fulfilment.” And this is what Justine gets out of living it slow.
The ex-fashion designer notes: “The days don’t go by so quickly anymore. I find myself feeling less anxious of not being able to finish certain things.”
“My mind is more relaxed, and I’m always learning how to grow new stuff,” she says.
Her 200 sq ft home garden saw an addition of green cabbage, blue pea flowers and a variety of herbs – on top of torch ginger and pineapple grown by her mother – when Justine got serious about gardening in 2018. You’ll see compost bins behind taller ginger plants, and rows of potted herbs kept healthy by earthworms.
“Growing my vegetables at home has changed my eating habits. These days, most Singaporeans eat imported fruits and vegetables because it’s convenient,” she says.
But it’s easy to eat seasonally and locally, says Justine. “All you have to do is start growing local vegetables in your home. Chilli padi or cosmos thrive in pots. These plants don’t need much space.”
Justine starts her day at 8am, moving the potted plants around just so they get enough sunlight. She waters the plants and starts preparing for the day’s meals.
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Being able to revive the concept of “living off the earth” inspired her. She started a homemade Nasi Ulam boxed-lunch delivery business last year.
The traditional steamed rice dish is mixed with shredded herbs such as wild pepper leaf, torch ginger and onions, sometimes topped up with additional dishes like omelette and fried tofu.
Justine recalls: “My mum used to make Nasi Ulam for me when I was a kid. It’s a very healthy and hearty dish.”
After friends and customers started asking about the herbs Justine used in the dish, she decided to get them involved in the preparation of the meal. And what began as a small gathering of friends last year is now a biweekly, full-day affair of herb harvesting and meal prep that’s open to anyone for $80 per person.
“If you ask me what makes me happy, it’s not just seeing where my food comes from,” she says. “It’s the educational effect these sessions have on my customers. Many have asked me for tips on how to grow their own herbs at home, and I’m always willing to help. Eating out of your garden just tastes so much better.”
This story was first published on Her World’s Jan 2020 issue.