Some very joyous moments on the farm come from taking morning walks, when the plants are heavy with dew, hearing the fierce racket of a thunderstorm, having bees buzzing around our Honolulu flowers and seeing visitors to Bollywood Veggies enjoy nature. Coming here gives them the chance to get out of the city and spend some quality time with people. I can see how the environment soothes them as they connect with the green landscape and fresh air, letting themselves be drawn to plants, touching them and smelling them.
This is the healing quality of nature. And it makes all the difference to what we do here. It’s an important link that enables people, especially children, to understand and gain respect for the agricultural trade. This has a direct bearing on the way people consume, what they choose to buy and eat, what they waste. It’s easier to waste food when you are disconnected from the process of growing it, especially if it can be bought relatively cheaply.
Being exposed to the farming cycle makes you think about how, for example, bananas take nine months to grow, or the back-breaking process that goes into planting rice. A deep respect for the wondrous growth of plant life emerges, and food wastage becomes inexcusable, even offensive. Those who visit our farm have shared with us how much their children loved spending weekends there, and how they no longer waste their food after learning more about how our vegetables are grown.
Very good food can be farmed in a safe and sustainable manner without having to subscribe to labels. “Organic” is really just a certification that Western countries took the lead in organising and marketing. Sadly it can be polarising if they create unrealistic expectations that isolate farmers who do not practise “organic” methods. Some are willing to pay for “organic” or “farm-to-table” produce air-flown from thousands of miles away while at the same time bargain at the wet markets for local produce.
Many people may not realise the number of valuable indigenous Asian plants we can find here in Singapore — many of these never enter the supply chain because they cannot last as long on the shelf or have lost their places in the modern diet. Bollywood Veggies grows 20 to 30 of such indigenous plants, and a favourite of mine is the moringa plant, found in rural areas of South Asia. It’s incredible how many vitamins and minerals such as calcium and iron are packed into its leaves. Customers at our restaurant who eat our delightful pakora-like moringa dish love it so much that it often starts a conversation.
“It’s easier to waste food when you are disconnected from the process of growing it”
We still have more to learn from other markets. Places like Japan and Taiwan actively promote agricultural precincts and local products, and give farmers importance in their policies. Both destinations are also conscious about safety and health standards, and consistently innovate in their agri-food efforts. Malaysia also celebrates its farmers and agricultural products through initiatives such as the Malaysia Agriculture, Horticulture and Agrotourism (MAHA) show.
It would be wonderful if Singapore also did that. Imagine what we could grow, and the knowledge and nutrition that would come once our public parks and gardens got involved.
More than just growing food, Bollywood Veggies exists to inspire people to live simply and respect nature – not as a remnant of the past, but an important part of having a happy future.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
This article was originally published in the February 2020 issue of SilverKris magazine