Find Out Why It Pays To Work In A Farm

This eight-part series delves into life in farms in Singapore — yes, farming exists here; no, it's not all kampongs and kelongs — and the new generation of farmers who are making farming hip. No straw hats involved.

The vegetable farm has been a family business for three generations and business development manager Dave Huang, 32, is determined to take it beyond traditional methods into the future. Dave joined the family business straight out of marketing and management school eight years ago despite having no background in agriculture. “The learning curve was very, very steep,” says Dave of his early years at the farm. (Kok Fah is the name of his uncle, who’s the farm’s managing director; Dave’s dad oversees three of the seven plots of farmland, and his brother manages the HR department.) Tucked away in Sungei Tengah, Kok Fah Technology Farm stretches over almost 25 acres and houses everything from a hydroponics farm to a packing house, and supplies veggies like salad greens and Asian leafy vegetables to wholesalers and supermarkets. A firm believer in keeping up with the times, Dave has launched a weekend market, and cooking classes and corporate team-building programmes are in the pipeline.

The farm was started by your grandfather about 70 years ago and has been passed down three generations. Was there any pressure to join the business, even when you were growing up?

It was more like an unspoken thing with my dad. I’d always known he wanted me to join the business. And eight years ago, AVA [Agri-Food Veterinary Authority] started to have funding for farms and that’s when I knew I could come into the business and make a difference with my contributions, rather than just work here to get a salary. I wanted to see how the company can benefit from me coming in, and not the other way around. It’s part of my vision for the company to modernise the farm and make it sustainable. ’Cos in Singapore, I don’t see any competitive advantages in farming if you don’t modernise.

What’s the one misconception about farms in Singapore that you want to dispel?

People usually think that farming is great because you get to be so close to nature. Like, “Oh, how nice if I could work in a farm and not be so stressed working in the CBD area.’” But in actual fact, it’s not as easy as it seems. We are firefighting issues like manpower, pests and disease here at the farm every day. It’s not just about counting how many seeds you have, calculating costs and labour [needs], throwing the seeds in the land and growing X kg of vegetables. There are a lot of unforeseen circumstances. Frankly speaking, Singapore doesn’t have the best climate to grow vegetables, so we have to use technology to overcome these barriers.

Okay, now on to the fun stuff you get to do at work.

For this job, you do more than just face a computer. Although on weekdays, it’s pretty much [a routine]. I’ll be replying e-mails to suppliers, thinking of new projects to embark on, keeping up-to-date with new technology and seed varieties that are applicable for the farm. On weekends, you’ll see me at the weekend market we hold here, selling vegetables and [being] the cashier. We conduct farm tours regularly, so I’m a tour guide sometimes as well. I also get to travel about 10 to 15 times a year to trade shows and talk to farmers from all over the world. I get to do a lot of different things, so it’s not just any mundane job.

What are your hopes for the farming sector here?

That there’ll be a lot of progress in technology for farms to be sustainable in Singapore. That’s how you can grow. Given the way the farms are now, I don’t see them surviving [beyond] the next 10 to 15 years.

As a kid, were you forced to eat your veggies?

I never disliked vegetables as a child. At home, we’re so used to having two or three vegetable dishes at the dinner table every day. My brother’s married but the whole family lives together in a condo in Choa Chu Kang — it’s near the farm — and we have about 10 people eating [together] every day.

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