Lessons from Green Circle Eco Farm: honouring a diverse, biocultural community
The author explores her relationship with Evelyn Eng-Lin, founder of Green Circle Eco Farm, and argues that by embracing the concept of “biocultural diversity”, Singaporeans can better preserve and protect our green spaces.
When we think about commercial farms, what springs to mind are the heads of leafy vegetables—kailan, or perhaps bok choy—sprouting from neat rows of raised farm beds. Actually, scratch that. In these agri-tech-powered days, we might instead envision hydroponic towers of kale and basil suspended in chemicalised water.
In contrast, the moment you step onto the grounds of Green Circle Eco Farm, you are enveloped by foliage. Trees tower above, with climbing vines forming hedges that frame your vision. Tendrils snake at your feet, and birdsong rings overhead.
Visitors often remark on the “disorderliness” of the farm, or marvel at the “flourishing verdant oasis of edible vegetation.” Each urbanite’s choice of words reflects their level of comfort with the wilderness. But the point is that Green Circle resembles less a conventional commercial farm than a forest—precisely as Evelyn Eng-Lin, its 79-year-old founder, intends.
Evelyn manages Green Circle in a way that mimics the complex ecosystem of a natural forest. The farm employs permaculture techniques, enriching the soil with layers of compost made from landscape and food waste. This has yielded 15cm of topsoil—rich, dark earth teeming with nutrients and microbial life. Evelyn also cultivates the vegetation in layers, planting conventional leafy vegetables amidst edible weeds, herbs, medium-sized shrubs, and perennial fruit trees.
Green Circle is a partnership between Evelyn and nature. Even as the farmer cultivates her own crops, she accommodates nature’s plan too.
Her labour of love, involving 20 years of painstaking work, has birthed a dense and thriving food forest, home to edible and non-edible plant varieties, boars, birds, snakes, and all kinds of creatures and critters. It is also the home of Evelyn, her husband, and their farm hands.
What they have, or rather had, created is an ecosystem, a complex and intricate web of life. Green Circle is no more.
This time last year, Green Circle was one of Singapore’s last remaining soil-based organic farms whose leases expired.
Local community initiatives and green groups tried to make the best of the situation by organising farm tours, an attempt to invite more people onto the farms for one last gander. Jom published a piece at the time, as did other media, lamenting the worlds that were lost when Singapore’s traditional farms were closed.
More than a year has passed, so it’s understandable to wonder what purpose a retrospective piece serves now. What could be the value of writing about yet another slice of Singapore, lost to the never-ending redevelopment and terraforming of the island? There is, of course, the basic value of communal discourse over loss. Unfortunately, the circumstance of places dear to us being closed or repurposed has become commonplace; it is in this shared melancholy that Singaporeans find solace and meaning.
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Singapore’s sense of security and invulnerability amidst the climate crisis is an illusion, says SGCR, as its fortunes are tied to its neighbours’, some of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Bolder steps towards regional climate action are needed.
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