by Tan Yi Han
Evelyn Eng-Lim had just celebrated her 74th birthday. But time seemed to have stopped for her as she displayed boundless energy and excitement in showing me around her farm in Lim Chu Kang.
With that same spirit, she continues to come up with new ideas for her farm, even as the clock ticks towards 2021, when the land is set to be returned to the government for military use.
In 1999, Evelyn and her husband, Lim Tian Soo, gave up their comfortable city life to pursue a path less travelled – starting an organic farm which they named GreenCircle Eco-Farm.
Today, the farm is thriving and employs 3 workers. But Evelyn has her eyes set on bigger goals.
After a trip to Sri Lanka in 2011, she was inspired to graduate the farm to a food forest.
Most farms require a lot of attention and effort. Water and fertilisers need to be provided, while weeds, diseases and pests need to be kept away.
During my visit, there was always something for the workers to do, such as covering bare soil with leaves to prevent soil erosion, and fixing the drainage system. Throw in the ant and mosquito bites, and one can imagine why it is so hard for Evelyn to find Singaporeans willing to help on the farm.
That is one of the motivations why Evelyn wants to let nature do most of the work!
According to Permaculture Research Institute: “a food forest is built to emulate a real forest - only that we fill it with the food plants and trees that we want.”
Just like a real forest, a food forest has multiple layers, ranging from tall trees, down to the root crops. In Evelyn’s food forest, moringa, papaya and mulberry trees form the top layer, with ladies’ finger (okra) and bayam (Amaranth) forming the bush and ground cover layers. Long bean vines climb on the trees for support, while ginger make use of the underground space.
Having different plants not only leads to the more efficient use of vertical space, but can serve to complement each other. Evelyn’s pepper plants, for example, only started to bear fruit when a tree was planted next to them.
Legumes such as moringa and long bean nourish the soil with nitrates, which help the surrounding plants to grow better.
The web of complementary relationships extends to animals as well. Birds are allowed to roam freely in the food forest, picking off caterpillars and other insects.
Given the potential for food forests to improve local food production as well as biodiversity, Evelyn hopes to have the support of academics to help collect data and conduct more research.
Unfortunately, in Singapore, the future of farming has largely been equated with high-tech farming. In the latest round of farmland sales by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), the winning proposals were lauded for their use of technologies such as green houses with automation and smart controls, and multi-tier hydroponic systems using LED lights and data analytics.
For Evelyn, however, the planting continues: “Food should be produced in an environment with a lot of biodiversity. Biodiversity is very important, not only in terms of appreciating the animals. People should realise that biodiversity should be central to our lives because we depend on biodiversity to give us food that will promote health not only for yourself but for the living world.”
To find out more about GreenCircle Eco-Farm, you can visit their website: http://www.greencircle.com.sg/