"In Olivia Choong's backyard, everything is subject to trial-and-error. The seasoned farmer isn't affected by the death of new plants – if plants don't grow well from the seeds, she'll try stem or root cutting instead."
OLIVIA CHOONG, 40
She is Singapore’s green girl on Instagram (@tendergardener), and also the cofounder of local non-profit green movement, Green Drinks Singapore.The home-farmer has learnt many life lessons from her garden.
When her rooster crows at the break of dawn, she gets up for a cup of tea or simply rolls back into bed. Her day begins between 11am and 12pm, when she’s fully rested.
Next, Olivia Choong feeds her chickens and prunes the shrubs at the expansive backyard of her family bungalow in MacPherson.
The backyard is sectioned into three plots of land. One for a chicken coop that ﬁts three chickens, another for bigger trees like mulberry, and the other for new plants like taro and popcorn. Oh, she keeps bees, too.
The former Republic Polytechnic lecturer who became a full-time home farmer has been slow-living since 2012.
Olivia says: “Singaporeans are so used to routine. That’s ﬁne if it keeps you inspired. For me, taking it slow enlivens my mind.” She adds: “It’s not hard to just take time off when you feel stressed. A short stroll in the park near your home will clear your mind.”
Balancing the slow life with society’s pace keeps her in touch with reality. When she’s not farming, Olivia freelances as an event organiser and does public relations for eco companies.
Her love for farming began when she was studying in Perth, Australia. Tending to the garden at the house she lived in struck a chord within her.
In 2007, she returned home and set up Green Drinks Singapore, a non-proﬁt movement that raises awareness on pertinent environmental issues.
More recently. Olivia headed to Byron Bay in Australia, where she became interested in beekeeping.
During her four-month stay there, she enrolled in beekeeping and farming courses conducted by Australian nature company Milkwood.
Her pay-off : Olivia attracted a colony of bees to her DIY hive in Singapore. And when the bees didn’t survive a wax moth infestation, the positive farmer took that as a life lesson.
“Things aren’t always in your control. Now, I’m trying to attract a new colony of bees.”
"FOR ME, TAKING IT SLOW vens lien MY MIND."
"Kimberly Hoong tending to the EGC garden in Queenstown with pockets of sweet fruits, edible flowers, vegetables and fragrant herbs."
KIMBERLY HOONG, 24
She's the deputy head of Foodscaping at Edible Garden City. A life-changing six-month stay in the Indian Himalayas made her see the different ways of living more consciously and sustainably.
The idea of slow living for Kimberly Hoong is simply taking a step back and not getting caught up in the daily grind. The 24-year-old once suff ered from anxiety as a result of packing too many activities within a day.
Kimberly, the deputy head of Foodscaping at Edible Garden City (EGC) in Queenstown, says: “Being in nature makes me realise that there is so much more out there (in life). Slow living translates to happiness because I live more consciously and mindfully, thinking twice before I buy something.”
The EGC, an urban farming social enterprise, sells fresh produce to food and beverage outlets, builds and maintains food gardens in the city, and conducts farming workshops.
She adds: “You don’t need so many clothes or all the expensive food to be happy. You don’t need to earn a million bucks. You can be happy if you learn how to live simply.” The millennial female farmer discovered her passion for farming at 19.
She started an urban farming group in the National University of Singapore (NUS) that involved environmentally related activities such as visits to community gardens and local farms.The group also set up an edible garden in school with composting and vermicomposting, which is the product of the decomposition process using various species of worms to create a mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste.
As fulﬁlling as the work was, Kimberly often felt tired as she overloaded herself with too many activities. It wasn’t until a life-changing six-month stay in the Indian Himalayas that made her see things quite differently.
The trip was part of an exchange programme during her Yale-NUS College days. On that trip, she realised that she could live life and take things at a much slower pace.
Of her experience, Kimberly, an environmental studies major, recalls: “I did not have to squeeze so many things within a day, but I still felt that I’d learnt quite a lot of things.”
The trip turned out to be mind-opening. Kimberly went on hiking trips, village homestays, and visited non-governmental organisations such as Waste Warriors, which undertakes waste collection, waste management consultancy and event waste management in different parts of India.
Being immersed in the local culture also made her realised that there were alternative ways of living – not just the fast paced one that she was so accustomed to in Singapore.
Kimberly notes: “I wanted to break away from all of the materialism, because I felt that the consumer culture we live in is not sustainable for both mental health and the environment.”
When she started working at the EGC in 2018, her desire was to get consumers to actively question the origins of their food, and for people to be more mindful and thoughtful about the things they ate.
“By doing all these, one will naturally take on a slower lifestyle,” she says of the changing mindset. “Even though things can get busy at the farm, I don’t get burnt out because I’m doing what I love to do, as well as taking a step back and looking at the larger picture.”
Kimberly concludes: “People often forget that there are many ways to live. I made a choice that is aligned with my values – and that makes me happy.”
You can be happy if you learn to live simple
"You'll know exactly what goes into your food if you dine with the Farmers. Right: Justine Ong-Farmer conducts a meal prep session, where she explains how to pair local herbs together. "
JUSTINE ONG-FARMER, 27
She’s the community builder who is spreading the locavore movement through Nasi Ulam workshops in her front yard.
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 refertilised the soil with compost because the ground was so stale.
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 product 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 ﬁ nish 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.
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