Look into the distance when you are in Tampines and you may only see a strange green plot at the top of a multi-storey car park.
Those vegetables that you consume daily (xiao bai cai, kailan, bayam) can also be grown from this parking lot.
Approximately four tons or 4,000 kg of vegetables are harvested each month, which equates to almost 16,000 packets of vegetables.
It is cultivated and managed by 35-year-old businessman Nicholas Goh and his Nature’s International Commodity (NIC) team.
Nicholas supplies his vegetables to local distributors in Singapore. They sell slightly cheaper than the market price and the NPUC FairPrice, he says.
Since the farm started eight months ago, the business has been good as it has sold most of the vegetables they harvested.
Nicholas was one of the few to win the tender in May 2020 to create rooftop farms in public housing car parks. The decision to find an alternative agricultural space in Singapore with land restrictions is part of the country’s strategy to achieve its 30 by 30 goal, which is to produce 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.
He was a mango farmer in Cambodia
Unknown to many, Nicholas is actually an experienced businessman in Cambodia. He runs a 72-hectare farmland in Cambodia, which is almost the size of 140 football fields, which sells mainly mango.
“I also have a waste management factory that converts food waste into organic fertilizers. Covid-19 has affected almost every business sector in the world. Although we are an essential service, we still face problems such as logistics, border closures and shortages of raw material supplies due to the blockage of distribution channels, “said Nicholas, explaining why currently in Singapore.
Border controls affected Nicholas ’management of his Cambodian business last year, prompting him to start the NIC urban agricultural business and pivot to serve local customers.
“We have grown these vegetables because of the local consumption habits and requirements that the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) established for all food-producing farms. We harvest our vegetables weekly,” he said.
He dropped out of school and became an entrepreneur
Nicholas was a student in the Express section, but dropped out at 16.
He reasoned that he had a strong desire to help the underprivileged and criminals, while serving the youth ministry in the church during mission trips to Cambodia.
“Even at this age, I had an innate passion for the underprivileged and entrepreneurship continued to move in my heart with a desire to find solutions to make this world a better place through business.”
“But I soon realized I had to go back to school to finish my training if I want to get to know the business world better.”
At the age of 18, Nicholas returned to Singapore to serve in the National Service and later decided to continue his studies. He graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering from Nanyang Polytechnic and re-entered the mission of his life shortly afterwards.
“Through my many school trips to Cambodia as a volunteer, my compassion for this land and the poor farmers grew. Eventually, I moved to the country as a humble farmer at 26 years old. I lived and worked as a Khmer farmer, like everyone there. ”
It was through the long hours of plowing dirt and debris with his hands that Nicholas discovered a successful formula for creating organic organic fertilizers, a key ingredient that gave him strength to grow his TWIN Agritech business in Cambodia.
TWIN Agri is the largest supplier of organic fertilizers in Cambodia, offering up to 800 to 900 tons of fertilizers per month. It has grown tenfold in the last four years.
He also claimed that this fertilizer acted as a “magic formula” for growing his crops in Tampines.
Agriculture in Singapore
The Tampines car park farm grows vegetables such as xiao bai cai, kailan and bayam to satisfy the local consumption habits.
It also follows the requirements set by the SFA for all food-producing farms, such as keeping the farm clean and sanitary at all times.
According to Nicholas, the methods of urban agriculture differ from traditional agriculture. His business uses soil technology (organic organic fertilizers) to grow vegetables.
Nicholas also uses sensors to help identify potential crop problems, which he says help him save time and money.
“I believe in a strategic agricultural solution, which consists of doing small things, managing well and positioning oneself strategically. Urban agriculture defines it as a farm, as it supplies and complements the needs of residents, ”he said.
When asked how he handles unexpected rains or floods in Singapore, Nicholas said the rainfall in the country is relatively constant.
“Rain and sun are part of the agricultural process. We cultivate crawlers and vines to block ourselves from the harsh sun and rain ”.
Local expansion plans
Nicholas plans to work on both his Singapore and Cambodian companies once the borders reopen, although that is unlikely to happen any time soon, given the resurgence of Covid-19 cases around the world.
The farmer said local vegetable sales in Singapore have been good, and that almost all of them are sold every month.
Stimulated by strong sales, it plans to gradually expand in the country, as vegetables offer a competitive price in the local produce market.
“We plan to expand, but there are restrictions, mainly (to find) people who are willing to charge under the sun. We will soon expand once we have tightened our model and our business strategy ”.
In fact, it has not been a bed of roses to be an urban farmer in Singapore, because rooftop cultivation is a new concept.
“Problems always refer to complaints that lead to actions by various government bodies. It’s hard to have the best of both worlds where, on the one hand, you have food security and food supply, but on the other hand, you’re afraid of insects, the smell and the dirt, ”Nicholas said. .
“Agriculture is not a clean business and neither is it for the elderly because it is very strenuous.”
When asked if he would like to open the farm to the public for viewing and as a public attraction, the proud farmer shakes his head as he protects his crops and also strictly follows the SFA guidelines.
“We usually control the public’s visit for a number of reasons: for biosafety reasons, where we don’t want the public to carry viruses that could cause problems in our plants and also because of the recent restrictions on Covid-19.”
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Featured Image Credit: Nicholas Goh