Sweet harvest for S'pore's local fruit growers

This article is more than 12 months old

Only a handful of local farmers grow fruit in addition to vegetables. One of them tells CHAI HUNG YIN ( he's not sure how long he can hold out

Row upon row of greenhouses are visible from the road.

But with a nondescript sign as the only indicator, one could easily miss the entrance to this Lim Chu Kang farm.

After you have entered the farm, a narrow pathway leads to the farmhouse. A lush web of crawling greenery greets you, with green apple-like fruit hanging from the roof.

Say hello to the local version of passionfruit.

Following the narrow pathway leads you down a meandering dirt track, which takes you to a green oasis of vegetables neatly planted inside curved greenhouse structures.

A flowering wax apple tree, with plastic bags tied to its twigs, provide much needed relief from the blistering sun. (The bags provide the fruit relief from pecking birds.)

Next to it, a longan tree grows its fruit in profusion.

And in a thicket beside that, a custard apple gently sways in the breeze.

Here in organic farm Fire Flies Health Farm, we meet Mr Chai Nian Kun, 34, and his parents, one of Singapore's last remaining fruit growers.

The last of Singapore's full-scale fruit farms, Abiu Fruit Farm at Lorong Serambi in Lim Chu Kang, closed about seven years ago after its land lease expired.

It left only a handful of farmers - like Mr Chai - who now grow fruit as an addition to their vegetable crops.

Mr Chai says the reason not many farms here plant fruit is a matter of survival.

He says: "A mango tree takes about five years to fruit. In those five years, we still need to pay rent."

Realising how precious land is in his parents' 3ha farm, Mr Chai fully uses every inch of soil.

His fruit harvest includes papayas, bananas, longan, wax apple, custard apple, pulasan and passionfruit.

He tells The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin: "Whenever there is a small space where we can't plant vegetables, we plant fruit."

Every month, the farm can produce 200kg of fruit - mostly papayas and bananas. This pales in comparison with his vegetable production, which weighs in at a hefty 9,000kg a month.

But he is happy with the extra income.

He says: "We usually don't eat the fruit that we harvest. It is our livelihood. We don't plant for fun. We consume only the leftovers."

His family also takes great pains to grow everything organically.

Mr Chai's father, Mr Chai Kien Chin, 64, painstakingly researches new methods and puts them into practice.

The younger Mr Chai says: "The fruits that are available almost all year round are papayas and bananas.

"We let them grow naturally, but if it rains every day, we can't get much harvest. These fruits need a lot of sun to ripen."

They even have a tiny hill of home-made compost on site, which they use as fertiliser.

The elder Mr Chai also makes his own organic liquid fertiliser from leftover beans, expired rice and over-ripe fruit and vegetables, which he ferments in barrels.

Their regular customers include an organic vegetarian restaurant and organic-centric shops.

"Whenever we have fruit harvest, we will ask them if they want any," says Mr Chai.

For health benefits, the Chais have diligently abstained from going chemical. That means no use of pesticides, fungicide, growth-inducing agent, chemical fertiliser or even animal waste.

But in this oasis of green, there is a dark cloud looming.

Mr Chai is not sure how long they can hold out for.

There are about two years left on their land lease and until then, Mr Chai is happy to continue his organic venture.

He has not firmed up his plans, but the elder Mr Chai has a clearer game plan. He says: "If Singapore can't include us, I will bring my knowledge and expertise overseas."

Grown locally

Some Singapore farms where you can buy locally-grown fruit and vegetables

Fire Flies Health Farm

WHERE Lot 75, Lim Chu Kang Lane 2

OPEN 10am to 5pm daily

CALL 6793-7875

Free delivery for purchases above $80

Green Circle Eco-Farm

WHERE 41 Neo Tiew Road

CALL 6861-9286

Home delivery with $5 transport fee and a minimum purchase of $30

Kin Yan Agrotech

WHERE 220 Neo Tiew Crescent

OPEN 9am to 5pm daily

CALL 6794-8368

Free delivery for purchases above $50 in a single receipt

Quan Fa Organic Farm

WHERE 35 Murai Farmway

OPEN 9am to 6pm on weekends

CALL 6793-7693

Free delivery for purchases above $50

Bollywood Veggies

WHERE 100 Neo Tiew Road

OPEN 9.30am to 6.30pm, Wednesdays to Fridays; 8am to 6.30pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays

CALL 6898-5001