Growing the farming scene
Duo improving local produce with problem-solving capacities learnt in school
Does lettuce grow from seeds?
This was one of the many questions Mr Terence Tan and Mr Lionel Wong, both 30, have received in the course of their work as co-founders of Upgrown Farming Company.
The answer is yes.
But the two Temasek Polytechnic (TP) alumni, who graduated in 2007, were shaken by the question.
Mr Tan said: "There is such a complacent attitude towards food here that some people do not even know how vegetables are grown."
The friends pursued their degrees at the University of Queensland in Australia, where they were made aware of food security issues and the relatively lower quality of produce here.
Mr Wong said: "During our time there, we were exposed to the local farming and fresh produce scene.
"When we returned to Singapore, we realised there was a significant disparity in the quality and value for money of vegetables here as compared with in Australia."
To improve local produce and counter Singapore's dependence on food imports - over 90 per cent of food consumed here is imported - the pair, who studied biotechnology in TP, co-founded Upgrown four years ago.
With two other co-founders, Upgrown consults on, designs and builds farms with technology that allows crops not naturally found here to thrive and be harvested.
Through mimicking natural conditions, such as sunlight via modified lights with adjusted wavelengths, the co-founders have seen non-native varieties of leafy greens and herbs introduced to local farming through their projects.
Superfood kale and more exotic species such as spicy mizuna, a Japanese vegetable with a wasabi aftertaste, are now available locally via their clients' farms.
They credit their success to the unique problem-solving capacities cultivated at TP, where they had to approach their studies with a problem-based learning approach.
Mr Tan said: "We had to apply our skills to solve real-world problems with practical solutions."
While Upgrown has about seven projects locally, it is also active in the region, with projects in China, Japan and the Middle East.
As urban farming gains awareness in Singapore, the pair hope to inspire more people to join farming.
Upgrown has seen an increase in interest from polytechnic and university students for internship opportunities in the past two years. It has also hosted over 10 groups of secondary school and polytechnic students at its office to showcase modern farming.
Mr Tan said: "If you go out and ask around now, who actually wants to be a farmer? So, part of our job is to reinvent farming, make it cool and entice younger people to join us."
Beyond ‘O’ Level Seminar
WHAT: Temasek Polytechnic's Beyond 'O' Level Seminar
WHO: Sec 4E and 5NA (2018 cohort) and students receiving O-level results this month, and their parents
WHEN: Jan 6, Session 1 at 9.30am, Session 2 at 2pm. Doors open half an hour prior
WHERE: Temasek Polytechnic Auditorium 1