Sprout Festival: Is It We Can Be Farmers?

Can the "grown in SG" initiative really take root?
CommentMay 16, 2019
By 2030, our gahmen has declared that 1/3rd of all our food requirements needs to be home-grown. We head to Sprout, an annual “Farm-to-People” festival/farmer’s market to assess our chances!

Sprout is a two-day fair that happened 8 & 9 May at Suntec Convention Hall. But never mind if you can’t go, focusing on the “Farm-to-People” (?) theme, we went there to see how far we could get on this sustainable food/locavore bandwagon.

In a tiny island-nation with little to no natural resources, how feasible is it that we can legit produce food locally for our consumption? Food security for Singapore – yes or no?

There were many things that were exhibited/sold at Sprout that don’t seem like they will be very helpful to this cause: honey (nice but keeping bees is damn intense lah), foreign superfoods like ChuFa (interesting to eat, but not local), teas (we got no space), metal straws (not food), rice husk-based crockery (also cannot eat), Quorn (don’t want to eat), decorative plants (eat may die), ecological soaps (eat will die)… you get the idea.

So onwards…

We’ll always have veg…

We seem to potentially have the veg part of our future diets locked down. We produce a decent variety of leafy greens, tomatoes and mushrooms locally with modern, techy vertical farms and there seem to be a healthy number of companies getting in on the action. Maybe with maturing agriculture tech, we could have even more interesting varieties of vegetables growing here too.

… Even at home.

On top of buying locally produced food, the future also seems to be about growing your veg right in your living room or balcony. We saw some pretty cool growing-tower-like contraptions that look polished enough to place in your living room… and flaunt to all your un-woke dinner guests. (We imagine that being hao lian in the future will also be about the size of your homegrown salad leaves.)

These things pump nutrients around and have blazing, timed LED lights to keep the growing cycles on track. The biggest we saw seemed to have 15 types of veg spilling out of it. It all looked clean, sealed away and pesticide free, so perhaps if you are feeling peckish, you could even casually walk over to it and eat straight from the tower like a tech-savvy giraffe.

Protein? How about fish, frogs and eggs?

Pig and chicken farming has moved overseas because… who can afford to run a livestock farm here right? That is unlikely to change, but despite the very challenging nature of aquaculture (due to how sensitive it is to environmental changes) we seem to be making progress on that front, with farms both inland and out in our waters.

At Sprout, the fish farmers were out in force to parade their wares; but if fish is not your bag, then your other choice for locally farmed protein (apart from eggs) at the moment will be frog legs and hashima from our frog farm. Mmmmmmmm… ?

Thankfully, we can still have a bit of a drink.

There was kombucha, lots of it, and importantly, some brewed locally, so they count. Didn’t see any of our local distilleries at the fair, but we know they are out there. So if all we have to eat at a Singaporean “farm-to-people” themed dinner is frog leg salad, at least we still can have a stiff drink to take our minds elsewhere.

But if you’re not into fish, and not into eating green hopping things, your savoury, umami last resort would be…

… Vegan cheese!

Singapore does have its own very adorable goat milk farm, but they weren’t at the fair, so the closest we got were some vegan cheeses. The cheeses are nut-based and so the raw ingredients are likely not locally grown, but what the hell, we will let that slide. The “cheeses” are fermented, have a smooth, nut paste consistency and a rich umami tang. Okay, so not exactly like real cheese, but still fun to eat.

Final thoughts

We’ll be blunt, Sprout, to us, barely invokes the romantic idea of a farmer’s market, so we think the branding is a bit salah and optimistic. But as a platform that builds awareness for local food producers, this event could just be the ticket.

For the next edition, we do suggest that it would be useful to better distinguish our local producers in a dedicated section, away from the sea of stores selling imported hippie, organic, feel-good stuff. The emphasis of our local food production should be treated in a more grown-up manner, perhaps. It’s good that some people are willing to take the risk and farm in Singapore; to stick their heads out on our behalf and help push our food security along – this is an expensive business with various pitfalls.

But thinking about hitting our goal of 1/3 sustainability, one also gets the sense that other more unconventional food production methods that are less land-, resource- and pollution-intensive – like, uhmmmm, petri dish prawn meat :/ –  may be the unconventional future for us. And perhaps these organisations should make an appearance here too, in time to come.

By virtue of being in a convention hall, Sprout will also never be the cozy, earthy, bucolic farmer’s market kind of event that the organisers hope to invoke, but maybe they should style themselves less this way and start telling the story of our local food producers with a clearer narrative! With any luck, that may encourage more would-be producers to step up to the plate! (Pun intended.)

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