FOUNDER, EDIBLE GARDEN CITY
YEAR ESTABLISHED: 2012
WHAT IT DOES: A social enterprise that promotes urban farming.
[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hile known a Garden City, Singapore is no metropolis given to farming, considering how 90 per cent of its food is imported and only 1 per cent of the land is cultivated. Former ad man Bjorn Low is changing this mindset and leading the charge for a very different type of farming.
Low, 37, is the co-founder of Edible Garden City (EGC), a social enterprise that promotes urban farming. In a city as dense as Singapore, Low and his team seek out pockets of unused space – rooftops, restaurant courtyards and the like – to grow vegetables and edible flora. Since the inception of EGC in 2012, its core business has been in building and maintaining herb gardens for clients like Marina Bay Sands, Six Senses Duxton, Fairmont Hotel and autism- focused Pathlight School. EGC also supplies herbs and edible flowers to restaurants like Adrift, Alma by Juan Amador, Tippling Club and Open Farm Community (which Low opened in partnership with Spa Esprit Group) through its production arm, Citizen Farms.
Low’s journey began with the epiphany that he didn’t know how food was grown. After leaving well-paying jobs in digital marketing, he and his wife spent two years leading a farmer’s life: growing vegetables in farms in the UK and olives in Spain, and working at an eco village in Japan. He even attended the East Sussex Biodynamic Agriculture College, where he learnt about animal husbandry.
Whether it was growing crops or shovelling manure, his main takeaway was that modern farmers had lost their connection to the land. “It’s all about science and maths now, where you tweak something in a spreadsheet here and you have more crops appearing over there,” he says. “It’s rather sterile, so bringing back that feeling of connection is what I’m trying to achieve.” So what stemmed from a feeling of inadequacy has evolved into a full-fl edged business. And that business in turn isn’t just linking people with nature — it’s connecting people to one another.
Two years ago, he launched Ah Gong Farm, a farming project in the low-income York Hill Estate in Chinatown that aims to teach isolated, elderly men the joys of farming and forging friendships. “There was one man who was depressed and said nothing for the first two weeks but, by the end of the sixth week, he couldn’t stop chatting. Now, he comes down to look at the planter boxes when he has insomnia,” he recalls.
He adds: “Every time we build a garden, we see people come, wanting to connect. And when they touch the soil and start understanding where their food comes from, it changes some of them.” Low admits not everyone emerges with a newfound respect for the earth’s nurturing ability but it certainly looks like EGC has plenty more seeds to sow. The company currently supplies herbs, microgreens and edible flowers to 60 restaurants, averaging close to $6,000 worth of produce for each restaurant monthly.
Overall revenue, meanwhile, is expected to hit $1.5 million this year, and will compound in the next three years with strategic investments. “Our biggest challenge is scalability. When it comes to agriculture in the city, there’s limited land and only so much you can go vertical,” he says.
But Low doesn’t seem especially fazed. “I’ve learnt to slow down a little bit. We were rushing to expand and that’s just like adding chemical fertiliser to a plant and demanding it grow faster. I want to go back to the more spiritual approach of growing plants and apply that to growing the business.”
IN 60 SECONDS
It’s a myth that I no longer go to the supermarket. There are only so many micro-greens and edible flowers I can eat.
I just want to grow vegetables. The fact that this whole beast got created in the process is both amusing and amazing. But, ultimately, I want to lead a simple, self-sustainable life.
I have a tattoo of a fish because I used to be a competitive swimmer when I was younger. When I left the corporate world, I got a tattoo of a seedling to mark that new beginning.
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