The plot thickens

Rachael Oakes-Ash discovers that when in Singapore it pays to eat your greens.

'They'd put me in jail but they're too afraid I'd start a riot," laughs the independently wealthy "Singacrat" who carries a warrior's hunting knife in a leather pouch.

The half-Chinese, half-Indian with arctic white hair is dubbed "the gentle warrior" by those who know her, and is the face of the Kranji Countryside Association in Singapore's north-west, just 30 minutes from the city centre. You'll find her, and her 20 rescue dogs plus two great Danes, at Bollywood Veggies, an exhibition farm and restaurant committed to giving Singapore's children access to farm life.

Singapore is beaming with the recent opening of the impressive inner-city $773 million Gardens by the Bay (expect 50-metre living sculptures and a conservatory Flower Dome with a Michelin chef restaurant). But it is Ivy and her followers who are changing the heart of Singapore one organic vegetable at a time.

The collective of farms and dairies specialise in "agritourism" run by "farmpreneurs" (their words, not mine) who provide Singapore's restaurants with organic options grown close to home. In a country that grows less than 5 per cent of its own food, and dedicates less than 1 per cent of its limited land to farming, this is a big deal.

Ivy leased the land with her husband, Lim Ho Seng, for Bollywood Veggies in 2001 after deciding a retirement of golfing was not for her. Four years later the Kranji Countryside Association was formed.

"The other farms in the area said, 'Get a food licence from the government, Ivy, and we'll make you our leader'," she laughs, recalling how the association happened.

"I don't believe in the word 'no', so I went for it."

The food licence result is Poison Ivy, a south-east Asian bistro with a changing menu that utilises produce from the farm, supplemented with ingredients sourced no more than two hours' flight away.

The chef, Lynne Ee, dubbed Little Scorpion, is also independently wealthy, the granddaughter of a government minister with no need to work, but like Ivy is committed to giving Singapore's less fortunate a place to be empowered.

Enter Bollywood Veggies and be greeted by Oh Siew May. She has cerebral palsy, helps in the kitchen and restaurant, and sells the vegetables from the garden at the market stall on the driveway. May is also the author of the autobiographical Scaling Walls, which Ivy sells in the shop.

Retired professor Anthony Hopkin is my guide for the farm tour, and we are accompanied by 15 children from a Montessori school on a field excursion with their parents. He is animated, passionate and knows how to work his crowd through the plethora of plant life on four hectares, complete with edible flowers that leave your tongue purple.

Clearly Ivy is doing something right. Her farm is the largest grower of bananas and papayas in Singapore. It has a cooking school and a food history museum, and the restaurant is already full of midweek school groups when we arrive.

"Land is life and life is precious," says Ivy, who has also been an actress, a performer and the president of netball in Singapore in her 60-plus years. Others certainly agree with Ivy, as 33 fellow organic farmers, dairies, fisheries and leisure activities in the region have signed on to the Kranji Countryside Association. A heritage trail is featured on their website for tourists wanting to make their own way around the region including the Kranji War Memorial. Alternatively there is a Kranji Countryside Express shuttle bus.

Like many before me, I am mesmerised by Ivy. She is loud, articulate, hilarious and thought-provoking, the kind of person you want on your side and at your dinner party.

An hour with Ivy is never enough, but I am now convinced Singapore's fledgling organic industry is in safe hands. You don't mess with a warrior with a knife, no matter how gentle she is.

Rachael Oakes-Ash travelled courtesy of Qantas, Raffles Hotel Group and Singapore Tourism Board.

FAST FACTS

Getting there Qantas has fares to Singapore from Sydney and Melbourne for about $730 low-season return including tax for the non-stop flight (about 8hr). See www.qantas.com.au.

Staying there Raffles Hotel celebrated 125 years in 2012 and was the hotel of choice for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine. Rates from $S1400 ($1081) for a Courtyard Suite; see raffles.com.

More information

Bollywood Veggies, bollywoodveggies.com; Kranji Countryside Association, kranjicountryside.com.

Comments