Sowing the seeds of a new, sustainable discourse
Sowing the seeds of a new, sustainable discourse
- By Sharmaine Loh
- | Jan 29, 2020
The sun beams down harshly on a midday in late December 2019, as bees flit from flower to flower, and as ants crawl up winding vines of hanging plants—all at a lush rooftop garden located in a quaint estate near Hougang.
We're at the heart of WWEdibles, an experimental garden brimming with a large variety of vegetation and flora; there could very well be over 100 different species of plants here. This is where 25-year-old Joanna Chuah, founder of WWEdibles, a local business selling unique homegrown produce, begins her daily harvest.
She’s not usually home on a weekday afternoon, but she has taken a couple of days off work during the festive season to rest; something she doesn’t do often. Being a full-time lawyer, business owner and urban gardener takes up as much time as one might expect.
WWEdibles Founder Joanna Chuah harvesting greens in her rooftop garden. (Credit: SG Magazine)
“I hardly sleep,” Chuah confesses. But it doesn’t show. Her skin glows beneath the midday sun as she picks out ripe fruits and vegetables. The young entrepreneur maneuvers comfortably through her labour of love.
There’s no doubt that Chuah has worked assiduously to make her garden a cherished space. Mended solely by the urban gardener herself, she spends six to eight hours a week tending to all the plants. Focusing on unique produce with a specialisation for tropical Asian plants, the sanctuary is a well-planned oasis of edibles.
The rooftop garden spans across two terrace home units’ top floors. Climbing plants are located by the balcony railings, while sheltering fruit trees greet you as soon as you enter the space. Move further into the largely horizontal area and you’ll find more fruitful plants (which helps train bees for pollination—yes, it’s a thing, look it up), as well as trays and pots of seedlings—from corn to beans—plus David Austin roses and basils by the back.
Today's harvest: Thai soldier beans, passionfruit, butterfly-pea flowers and Holland mini cucumbers (Credit: SG Magazine)
Today’s harvest includes Thai soldier beans, passionfruit and Holland mini cucumbers. Chuah takes the small weaved basket containing the produce down to the kitchen on the first floor, washing them and baking the beans in the oven for just a couple of minutes. She sets the harvest on a glass dishware, and indulges in some passionfruit and wine herself.
“It’s fresh, isn’t it?” she probes. We take a bite of the Holland mini cucumber and can't help but agree. It’s fresh, crunchy, sweet and simply delicious.
“A very intimate relationship exists between farmer and consumer,” she continues. “You’re trusting someone with food you’re putting into your body. But these days we never know where our food comes from.”
And that's where WWEdibles comes into the picture. Chuah started her business by putting punnets of fresh flowers she grew on Carousell for sale in December 2017, a year after seriously gardening. It was rather successful; a number of customers purchased those punnets at $10 a pop, instead of getting them at $16-$18 from unreliable overseas sources. Yet in mid-2018, when she tried to offer hipster cafes around Serangoon and Ang Mo Kio her produce (mostly edible flowers), it didn’t work. According to those restaurants she visited, they didn’t know how to utilise them.
A more tangible shift came in early 2019. People contacted her via her business’ Instagram account, dropping her messages to order organic produce. She strongly believes it’s the Australian slow flower movement that’s changing and influencing the local eco scene. Hydro farms are surfacing, and so is private dining.
Glass gem corns (Credit: SG Magazine)
“People are starved for interesting produce,” she says. At WWEdibles, you can receive fresh, organic items that aren’t commonly found in Singapore, especially not at NTUC Fairprice or Cold Storage outlets. This season, Chuah’s got corn from Peru, Mexican sunflowers, variegated white chillies and passionfruit marigold to name a few. She has begun growing Japanese pumpkins, and may regrow some glass gem corns too. Chuah’s insistence on growing exotic plants to prove the possibility of farming unique greens, flora and fauna locally, and in your home no less, has paid off. She even receives commissions from local restaurants from time to time, where they’ll ask her to grow and harvest specific species of plants for them. Although the bulk of her profits still comes from the usual sale of produce.
To be as sustainable and eco-conscious as possible, Chuah recycles and upcycles too. She collects coffee grinds from nearby cafes to utilise in her garden. Her neighbours occasionally gift her scrap metal, which allows her to build racks, holders and other useful gardening resources.
Pots of seedlings as well as bountiful plants and trees are all found at WWEdibles' lush garden. Most of the items that are used to hold the plants are recycled.
(Credit: SG Magazine)
Her vision and mission for her garden doesn’t stop here. In fact, she has only just begun. With an entire year ahead, Chuah shares some of her goals. She envisions completing her ecosystem, and has most recently erected a butterfly enclosure within the rooftop locale, nourished with lime and Chinese violets for the caterpillars. She also intends to source for disposed calamansi and kumquats around her neighbourhood during the Chinese New Year period, that can then be thrown into the enclosure as well.
She will be engaging more folks in her cause too. The ambitious business owner has hosted get-together sessions with other farmers she has met, apart from being on panels to share her farming expertise and will be doing more of those. Another thing to check off her 2020 to-do list is to multiply seeds from her garden and pass them on to others interested in gardening or in the gardening community, so they may grow and nurture plants themselves.
It’s an undeniably lengthy, arduous yet fulfilling path she’s taken. But she loves it, and continues to spread the important message of sustainability.
Chuah also provides advice to those with similar ambitions. “Try growing one thing—anything—first. Learn and grow with your plants. And remember that every step taken towards being more environmentally friendly counts, however small the step.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.