“It’s about taking the first step right, because it’s always the hardest.”
Founder, Edible Gardens
We meet Bjorn at Artichoke cafe, where outside there are a few stacks of his Edible Gardens (see above picture). I muse that the stackable Edible Gardens look like mini-HDB flats with their leafy inhabitants. It’s 2pm, and the mid-day sun beats down on us. We’re sweating, but Bjorn looks comfortable as ever. He is, after all, a farmer- one who left a comfortable career to pursue his dream of growing our own food. He tells us about his journey here, where he hopes to go, and some advice for a young Singaporean.
This is Bjorn Low, and he is Singapore.
You left a career in advertising to pursue farming and agriculture. How difficult was it to make that switch?
Usually you have to be kind of jaded with your past experiences or your past life, to make that switch. For me that switch was actually quite difficult because I was brought up with a very traditional Singaporean-Chinese family, i.e. to be successful you need to go down a certain route, or a certain path.
I went to school, I went to University, I even did my MBA. And after all of that, my parents really couldn’t understand why I made the drastic switch to agriculture and farming. It took a couple of years to explain, and for them to really go and research for themselves. Nowadays you have you see self-sustainability and farming on TV, so they understand it a lot more. But at that time, it was very tough for me, because I was brought up quite traditionally.
I was doing quite well in my past. To make that switch was quite tough because you’ve got to think about money and paying your bills. When I left my job my I had the intention of going back after exploring for six months, because I needed to make enough money to buy a farm. It was not cheap to buy a farm back then. But after making that first step, I know I couldn’t go back because I saw a different way to live. A much more sustainable, cheaper option to life than what I was living with.
My wife was a huge factor in this decision. She encouraged me to do it. We used to work together in advertising. She used to tell me all the time, “We have to leave, let’s go and explore all these things.” She was quite a driving motivation.
It’s about taking the first step right, because it’s always the hardest.
What drives you?
Right now we’re based close to Bottletree Park- we took out a plot and base our operations there. There are many interesting individuals there, they’re all elderly- either elderly or middle aged people farming, growing vegetables. Talking to them, you understand why people want to farm, and in a way that reflects why I’m doing it in the first place. There’s this lady, she’s very friendly, we sat down and we chatted. One of her motivations for farming is because she got depressed, and she found solace by growing vegetables, seeing them grow.
I think that made me think there is a lot more to share than just driving this farming thing. It may look like a passe thing, but there’s something there- you see it changing people’s lives because they come in touch with nature. You don’t have to be in food growing, don’t have to be farming, but just the act of planting, working with nature has an effect on you. You don’t need to go to a hospital, or big pharma to get your pills for depression because there are other means of reconnecting yourself to the world.
What do you hope to build Edible Gardens into?
I think in the city many people are very disconnected from nature already. Kids don’t know where their food come from, even adults just — well, they know that it comes from a farm but it’s just not important to them anymore and that it’s like walls, you don’t know what’s beyond them. I hope to bring them just a bit closer, and to get people to understand a little bit more about nature. And do it in a commercially sustainable way.
We’re building gardens- we’re building gardens now for hotels, for restaurants, for schools and we’ll continue to do that. But we hope to start our own organic farm, a larger scale one, one acre or something like that and then run the sustainable business, and then employ people who can do it. There are a lot of people in the elderly homes who actually have a very keen interest in growing. Instead of asking them to travel all the way to Jurong to work in McDonalds, we hope that by sprouting out these urban farms, they can work in and own these spaces, to grow vegetables that they can sell to the *zichar* stall down there. Then they can live with a bit more dignity.
Nurturing and growing food is an empowering process, because you have control over the basic necessities of your life. Right now you’re controlled by supermarkets. Growing and selling food, on one hand empowers the community and creates the link [between the community] and that *zichar* stall downstairs. But that’s a long way away. So obviously we’ve got to convince the government by building the sustainable business first.
I hope to bring them just a bit closer, and to get people to understand a little bit more about nature. And do it in a commercially sustainable way.
What’s some advice you’d give to a young Singaporean?
I guess it’s doing something that you’re passionate in, because I followed my passion and I went to explore and discover it, even though I was told not to go. If you follow your passion and you work hard, things will naturally fall into place, if you’re doing something good for the world. You’ll still have challenges but some how the universe will guide you along the way.
Travelling and experiencing it [yourself] is very important. You get a lot of inspiration when you travel and meet people, like-minded people. And then you realized that, hey, you’re not special or we’re not weird, you know, the there are other people are doing it and they’ve been doing for ages. We’ve met families that have brought up two generations living very sustainably, and not buying things. They live on a farm daily, and that’s all they have. When you travel, you get inspiration, and you come back here you can share that with people that don’t have the chance to travel. And it’s about the way you travel, because you can have two people go to the same destination and have a totally different experience. You have to be adventurous and meet people, and make the experience worth it.
Have you heard about artificial maturity? Today’s teenagers or youngsters grow up and they’re not matured by experience, they are matured by what they see on the iPhone or iPad or the internet. In psychology they call this artificial maturity. They think they know everything about the world but actually they really don’t know because they haven’t lived it yet. So go live it!