The Raffles Hall Visits!

So late in January, Gemma, Xin Run and I paid Raffles Hall (RH) a visit! Xin Run and I met Prof. Yap, one of RH’s Resident Fellows, at an NParks event. He runs his own farm on Raffles Hall, and kindly invited the YNC urban farmers over to visit! We got to meet the RH Green Comm, and other RH people too!

Their farm concept is completely different from ours: Prof. Yap has actual land. His plants are spread throughout the RH estate. I recall seeing Sugar Cane, Winged Beans, tomatoes and more. He even grows guava! To protect them from the birds, he seals his guava up in Chinese New Year cookie containers. Talk about ingenuity! One day, when we get round to growing fruits on our own plot of land, we’re gonna have to start stocking up on them containers (great excuse to eat more CNY goodies, in my opinion).

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Our friend Chris picking one of Prof. Yap’s home-grown Guavas. That’s Prof. Yap on the rightmost!

The RH people kindly treated us to dinner at their dining hall. We even got to meet Prof. Yap’s wife! She gave up tips on getting rid of mealy bugs (which have been harming our tomatoes)! Prof. Yap also gave us one of his chive plants to grow back in Yale-NUS. It was cool to learn the chives originated in his mother’s garden… Talk about plants and legacy, huh?

In mid-February, we hosted the RH people at Yale-NUS in return! We had dinner together and then headed over to the Yale-NUS farm! Also gracing the occasion was Mrs. Angie Ng, a botanist we met at the same NParks event we met Prof. Yap. She’s so knowledgeable! Listening to Prof. Yap and her wax poetic about plants and listing the scientific names of various plants was an education. I realise I have so much more about farming and botany to learn!

We picked up a few tips from them for our farm. Apparently, our soil’s quality could be improved – it’s not loose enough to facilitate comfortable root growth. No wonder we’ve been having trouble with the plants wilting… At least now we know what the problem is! Based on their advice, we resolved to overhaul the garden to facilitate a great new planting season come next sem!

And we had a surprise guest, too! Who should join us but the amazing Prof. Stan, one of our Yale-NUS professors! He and his wife have a thriving garden back at Kent Vale – the pictures he showed were so amazing! He even showed us and the RH people round his lab. His Foundation of Science course is working on making soap – and it’s pretty darn effective soap, too! I know what FOS mod I want to sign up for come sophomore year…

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That’s Prof. Stan in the foreground on the left, amazing us with his secret botanical powers! On his right, the amazingly knowledgeable Mrs. Angie Ng.

All in all, a great sem for NUS-wide collaboration! Here’s one step closer to the dream of an inter-RC/Hall Farming Alliance!

Nicholas

No Dairy Challenge

— by Su-Min

It wasn’t called “Dairy Challenge” for nothing – sticking to a non-dairy diet was tough. The point, perhaps, should be that I did not stick to it; I was only successful in going dairy free for one day of our weeklong challenge. The extent of my cheats varied throughout the week – some were accidental (I forgot about the diet and ate a chocolate on the first day), some were small cheats (a cookie!) and some can’t even be defended (I love milk, and I cut down on a lot of milk during the challenge, but I succumbed to temptation on a few occasions). Others were “circumstantial cheats”, such as how we had a DF group meeting where our friends cooked dishes from home for us, and seriously, you cannot turn that down!

Moving on from my laundry list of excuses, I will admit that I didn’t enjoy the challenge, because it required such an immense diet change. However, my two greatest takeaways from this experience are, simply put, EVERYTHING HAS DAIRY and DON’T BE A HYPOCRITE.

Well, okay, let me qualify my statements. It is not true that everything has dairy, but anything that is remotely tasty probably does. This made me aware of how important dairy is in the modern diet, and how hard it is to avoid it completely because it is a component of so many different types of food.

On to my second point, my inability to stick to the diet shows that knowing the environmental impacts of my actions does not necessarily mean that I am willing and able to give up something that I consider as an integral part of my daily life. While this isn’t a groundbreaking revelation, it makes me realize that if a somewhat-environmentally-conscious person like me can so easily decide that “milk is too important to be cut out of my life” in spite of knowing how it harms the environment (and animals, and myself), it is no wonder that global warming is a thing; I have to be able to be willing to make sacrifices in my own lifestyle for the environment before I can expect others to do the same.

To end this reflection with an optimistic cliché, change starts with me! While I may not be able to cut dairy out of my diet completely, cutting down on it is a better option than reverting to my original lifestyle and that is what I will aim to do.

A Fresh Start

It’s been a while since this wordpress has been updated, but we have several fun posts lined up. We’ve been busy reviving the farm, that unfortunately wilted greatly on us over winter break. This is a challenge we have to learn to face: what will happen to our urban farm over the breaks when students aren’t allowed back on campus? Our idea to enlist the help of the cleaning aunties and uncles (and the landscaper uncle) to tend to the garden over winter break fell through (it was our bad), but we will do the best we can to ensure we have a solid plant-care plan in place before we all leave for summer vacation!

Urban farming is a little different this semester — Yan Lin has gone to the US for her semester abroad (we miss her dearly!), and Xin Run has taken up the position of co-leader for urban farming alongside me. Also, we no longer meet only on Wednesday mornings because of everyone’s clashing schedules. We wanted to make sure that everyone in the urban farming family could still make it for farming, so we now meet on two days: Tuesday evenings (6-8.30pm) and Wednesday mornings (8.30-11am).

I thought I’d share some of the photos I’ve been snapping over urban farming sessions the past few weeks, because we’ve done some pretty interesting things!

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Larry the Sweet Potato had to be speared to death because it was not growing well. We really need to learn how to grow sweet potatoes well, and learn how to know when the sweet potatoes are grown and ready for harvest!

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Forking and weeding the planter boxes + adding new things to the compost bin! (We’ve finally begun using our compost on the plants.)

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We unfortunately had to trim off a large percentage of our four o’ clock flowers because they were overgrowing, and we were worried that the lime plant in the same planter box wouldn’t get the nutrients it needed. These flowers grew surprisingly well: Mdm Kamisah first gave us five tiny stems of these flowers, each about 4 inches tall, and they grew into a very wild and intertwined clump!

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After we removed some of the flowers, we discovered that these two giant snails were hiding under them all along! These huge snails have been making frequent appearances in our farm lately, probably because of the frequent + heavy rains (it’s the monsoon season).

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The heavy rains had ravaged the chalk board we used to note down who the farmer of the day was. It had to be thrown away 🙁 (This photo doesn’t show the full extent of how bad the board had gotten.)

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For the first time, we’ve cut open a stem from our aloe vera plant that has been with us since the start of the farm in RC4 two semester ago.

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We began rubbing the aloe vera all over our skin because it’s good for treating sunburn, and makes for good moisturiser (?) in general! ^_^ Hehe the fun things we do in urban farming~

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RIP our precious chalk board ;~;

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Went on a shopping spree at IMM to get new things for the farm. Protip: Daiso has a good selection of gardening tools that sell for cheap, and Giant sells a variety of seeds + soil, pesticides etc.

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The yellow windmill we bought has been planted in the farm! Adds some colour to the space 🙂

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Repotting some soil because we planted new seeds! We’re growing the seeds in small pots in our own dorm rooms first, and will transfer them to the planter boxes when they’re bigger and stronger.

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Cutting up the things we add to the compost bin to help things rot quicker.

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Our new chalk board showing what we accomplished last Wednesday!

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This board can be found inside the Cendana Student Commons overlooking the farm. We will update it weekly to keep our school community aware of what we’re doing!

Elizabeth

No Meat Week: Wei Han

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This is me (: As observed by the fats on my face, I LOVE food. That means that Operation No Meat Week was going to be one of my hardest weeks at YNC. Yet, as I listened to Yan Lin, Elizabeth and the rest of the Urban Farmers discuss the problems and issues of meat consumption—environmental degradation, animal rights abuse, rise of drug resistant bacteria—the experience seemed increasingly important and valuable. It is my pleasure to say that I…failed the challenge ):

The week began pretty well. Being a vegetarian in the dining hall was actually much easier that I had expected. There was always a variety of greens (yay to the salad bar) and more importantly there was always some tofu or beans or other sources of protein. Indeed, our daily intake of protein usually far exceeded our minimum requirements. The toughest meal of the week was the Chicken Rice Day ): Imagine taking a serving of chicken rice, walking back to your table and casually transferring all your chicken to your friends. Tough but survivable.

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The downfall of my No Meat Week was heading out to Marutama Ramen. The temptation in my heart had wiped my memory of the challenge and by the time I had regained my senses, the bowl of steaming hot ramen (which cost a whooping $20) was already in front of me! I couldn’t let it go to waste…could I? (Ironically, the only photo I took this week was the ramen that failed my challenge)

Nevertheless, although I had failed the challenge, I still gained much from this challenge. I learnt how having a routine made the challenge easier—always walking to the same stations meant less temptation and thought. Perhaps ironically, this is why we consume meat thoughtlessly but it could also be a method for us to adopt new, environmentally friendly diets! (: I look forward to the next food challenge!

Wei Han

No Meat Week: Xin Run

This week the Urban Farming Team embarked on another diet challenge: no meat challenge! Yan Lin and Eliz gave us a “lecture” on the environmental and health impacts of mass production and consumption of meat. According to the Department of Geophysical Science of Chicago University, beef produces 9.48 gram of carbon dioxide-eq kcal, which is the highest among all other food like pork and poultry. On the other hand, mass production of poultry causes water pollution. During our meeting, we discussed and decided on the meats to cut out.

I initially expected the no-meat challenge to be easy for me, because as a vegetable lover, I seldom eat meat. My source of protein mostly comes from fish and egg. However, as an occasional meat eater, it became tough when the dining hall started serving beef and chicken rice. On Day 3, I couldn’t resist the temptation – the curry beef smells so good! After looking around to check that no one was around, I secretly took a piece of beef! Haha!

During dinner time on Sunday, there was no fish or egg left in the dining hall. Craving for protein, I tried taking the curry beans. Perhaps I wasn’t used to eating beans? It tasted kinda weird. ><

All in all, even though I often eat more vegetables than meat, it was not easy for me. The no-meat challenge imposed a certain level of dietary restriction on me. Whenever I felt like eating meat-based food like non-vegetarian pizzas or fried chicken, there’s a sense of discipline, (or rather fear of being found out by my team mates), that held me back. Nonetheless, the challenge was successful in reminding me on the negative impacts of meat on the environment and health.

Xin Run

Weekly Farmers’ Meeting (21 Oct 2015)

Here’s a quick summary of what happened at today’s meeting for those who missed out:

  • After a rather sleepy breakfast in the dining hall, we went back to the Cendana common lounge for our discussion on not eating meat for a week. Yan Lin shared about the use of antibiotics in animals (we watched this ted talk about superbugs aka antibiotic-resistant bacteria), the use of packaging in meat, and showed us some pretty cool charts and data on the environmental/health impact of the different sorts of meats and other animal products like milk and cheese.

10900109_10153730402242490_2917634042901123674_oTaking all that we learnt into account, we drew up a list of yes/no foods for our challenge – I’d advice you to just look at what is on the ‘no’ list and avoid the items on there. Feel free to eat whatever else you’d like; the ‘yes’ list above is by no means exhaustive.

  • We then headed over to our farm to begin forking the soil to loosen it and encourage aeration. There was tons to be done on the farm today: adding new material to the compost, plucking out yellowed leaves and those with holes to encourage plant growth, helping straighten the 4 o’ clock flowers that looked like they were flopping over, and planting new seeds in preparation for our cookoff – we replaced the dead mexican coriander with sweet potato babies, planted rocket in the lemongrass planter, and planted rosemary in the chinese spinach planter. Fingers crossed that these grow well!

I also shared the advice that Maxel from NParks gave us when he came over to look at our farm last Friday. Here it is (I’ve also added it under the ‘farming tips’ tab):

  • We need to loosen the soil every 2 weeks, especially for the vegetables. i.e. forking – scraping the surface to encourage aeration
  • Add more compost to the soil to prevent hardening 
    • If the vegetables turn yellow, it’s because the compost has too much wood, so we need to add more peat 
    • If we don’t add meat, beans and egg shells, our compost wouldn’t smell 
    • The smaller the material added, the faster it breaks down – more surface area 
  • The white pests in the leaves are miners (insect larvae that eats inside the leaf) 
    • Can use neem oil to repel pests, or lay coffee grounds over the soil to repel pests, but not too much.
    • Cut leaves with pests 
  • Since we aren’t using pesticides, our threshold for pests should be higher – but still continue to catch and kill those pesky millipedes and grasshoppers! 

We’re also expanding the roles within our family, so here’s a reminder of who is in charge of what:

  • Compost Captain – Tiara
  • Decoration Diva – Su-min
  • Aunty + Uncle Killers – Crystal, Wei Han, Nicholas
  • Gemma Greenfingers – obviously Gemma, in charge of ensuring that our garden does well
  • Forker (we need a better name!) – Xin Run (will remind us to fork every 2 weeks, but we will all help with forking the soil)

See you guys next week! Good luck with the food challenge!

Elizabeth

Going A Week Without Added Sugar

…. or at least I tried.

Yan Lin and I did some research on the pros (energy boosting properties? sense of pleasure?) and mostly cons of sugar so that we would have tons of interesting information to share with the group last Wednesday. It’s amazing how little I knew about the things that I was consuming. I knew sugar in large amounts isn’t good for my body, and I thought that my usual aversion to sweets and soft drinks put me in good stead – turns out the fruit juices and granola bars I’d always seen as healthy had some pretty high levels of sugar in them. This shocking fact has made me completely rethink what I’m putting in my body.

Before I show you what I ate over the week, let’s look at some of the facts we discovered:

  • Today, the world daily average consumption of added sugar per person is 17 teaspoons, up 45 percent compared to 30 years ago.
  • Fructose was the huge enemy we were fighting: it is not absorbed by any non-liver cells, and all of it is sent to the liver to be processed into uric acid and fatty acids. Too much of those could lead to conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Also, fructose doesn’t suppress ghrelin (the hunger hormone) OR stimulate insulin or leptin (the full-feeling hormone): consuming fructose does nothing to make us satiated, and leaves us with only its calories 🙁
  • We talked about fructose in fruit vs that in fruit juices – while fructose in general isn’t great, fructose in fruit is preferred over that in fruit juices as it comes encased in fibre and micronutrients that help to slow down the absorption rate of fructose into our bloodstreams. This means less of a sugar rush and its consequential sugar crash.
  • Surprise surprise: manufacturers add a lot of sugar to savoury foods too! Ketchup is an example of a high sugar food (defined as having > 22.5g of sugar per 100g of product) you may not have expected. Sweet foods sell well, perhaps because of our brain’s reward system that makes us crave sugar like we would drugs.
  • Sugar is a $5 billion industry. Given that sugar is so pervasive in the food we consume, can the food industry actually survive without sugar?
  • As Gemma mentioned in her post, sugar also has negative environmental impacts: its monoculture leads to a lack of biodiversity, soil salinization and the overuse of water in cases of irrigation inefficiency.

I took pictures of most of my meals throughout the week, and here are some of them:

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Our challenge involved not eating food items that had more than 6g of sugar per 100g of product. We also had a list of yes/no items: soups, sauces and bread were ‘no’s. This was my first meal after our meeting ended: a simple lunch consisting of fruit, baby carrots, and a spinach frittata.

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I usually don’t head to the dining hall for breakfast, and consume granola bars in my dorm room to keep me going in the morning instead. Sadly, I couldn’t do that this week because my seemingly healthy granola bars actually had a lot of sugar in them ;A; So over the course of the week I grabbed tons of apples from the dining hall, and bought a bunch of mini bananas for myself. The bananas were a part of my breakfast everyday, but I switched the apples up with some grapes on some days.

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Lunch on day 2. I was particularly happy with this lunch – there was so much colour on my plate, and the food tasted really good! Here we have broccoli, carrot slices (glazed with some sauce I think may not have made the mark but I tried to eat them with as little sauce as I could), potato slices and tons of pumpkin.

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Over the course of the week I faced several challenges, the first of which was heading out for lunch with my friends. They decided on a Japanese restaurant, and I decided on ordering a salmon sashimi salad without the salad dressing. Also grabbed a plate of sushi off the conveyor belt. Emerged successful!!

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My church threw a food fair on Sunday to raise funds for the victims of the Gorkha Earthquake that struck Nepal earlier this year. It was hard to turn down these hand-made red velvet cupcakes, especially after my mum bought two…. but I did it! I said no to the cupcakes ^_^

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Lunch on Sunday with my mum was tough – we ended up at a restaurant that served only burgers and sandwiches, all of which were not allowed, going by the rules of our challenge. I could’ve eaten the burger without the buns, but it wouldn’t have been worth the money… so I just ate it all. This was the first fail 🙁

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Caved again on Monday, when our school’s dining hall served dessert (this is a rare treat) during lunch after the college’s Inauguration Ceremony. It also didn’t help that most foods – everything except rice and fruit – would have been off limits to me. So I developed this weird theory of “since I can’t eat anything, I’ll just eat everything I want” 🙁 But the cheesecake and mini apple pie were good. I skipped on the tau huey :’-(

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The final meal of the sugar challenge, back at breakfast with the urban farmers. Had a dumpling (I really had no idea whether this had sugar – the filling was savoury, but as we’ve learnt, you can never be sure with savoury foods…), 2 slices of ham and some scrambled eggs.

All in all, I think I did okay. Learnt a couple of things: couldn’t snack on a lot of snacks I had in my cupboard so I bought peanuts instead. Ate a lot of those which can’t be good since they were coated in so much salt. Also realized I consumed A LOT of eggs and fruit over the week which didn’t make me feel any better (remember: there’s fructose in fruit too u____u). My main takeaway was that eating all things in moderation still seems like the best option, rather than eating less sugar but replacing it with such high levels of everything else instead.

Elizabeth

The Sugar Challenge!

This week the Urban Farming team embarked on its first food challenge of the year: The Low Sugar Diet! During the week we supported each other as we sought to find food options with less that 6g/100g of added sugar, in the hopes of becoming more aware of the health and environmental implications of added sugar in our diets. Statistically, people are consuming far too much sugar than is recommended by the World Health Organization, and this is taking a serious toll on our health. Sugar also plays a huge role in our economy, encouraging mono cultures of sugar cane and sugar beets that require massive amounts of water and produces much waste for cultivation. To address these issues, the Urban Farmers embarked on a challenge of reducing our dependence on this habit forming crop.

A few things came to light from this experience:

  1. The tragic lack of dining hall food that is low sugar. To meet the requirements of our challenge, the Urban Farmers vowed off all sauce, cheese, soup, and sweets. Applying these standards to our dining hall leaves much to be desired. The majority of my meals consisted of vegetables, plain white rice, and fruit- lots and lots of fruit. Not only did fruit contribute to a significant portion of my daily meals, its also what I reached for the most as a snack. Bringing me to my next point…
  1. This low sugar diet did not actually make me feel any healthier. While I for the most part avoided added sugars, fruits have a lot of natural sugars, which are not healthy in excess either. On top of that, fruits, rice, and vegetables do not fill me up very well and don’t provide adequate nutrition for a healthy lifestyle. Throughout the week, my energy levels were low, and I found myself craving flavor satisfaction from other sources, such as salt. I came to the conclusion that the dining hall is not a sufficient resource for supporting this sort of diet. I know that some members compensated the lack of options with nuts and other sugar-free snacks, and I am curious to know how their experience differed from mine. However, besides my disappointing insight towards the dining hall, there were positive learning experiences that I drew from the week as well…
  1. The opportunities to indulge in sugary sweets are abundant in this school, and sometimes it is better to say no. Throughout the week various clubs and meetings offer to the larger school body cakes, ice cream, eclairs, and other sweets. From the birthday bashes, to the inauguration, there was no shortage of temptations this week. This opened my eyes to the fact that I rarely say no to free food, and probably consume more small treats than I think. This week I have become more aware of my mindless snacking, as these small treats do add up overtime.

In conclusion: At times this week the health and environmental implications of sugar were not clear, but this experience, if anything, has plant a small seed of awareness in the back of mind of particularly how much sugar I am consuming on a daily basis. From now on I will think twice before indulging in another small brownie at rector’s teas, taking that pump of ketchup with my fries, or drinking a tall glass of juice with breakfast. Because while all out stopping added sugar intake might be a bit extreme, we can all stand to take a bit less in our daily lives.

Gemma