15th June 2020

How Farmer Alan Toh of Yili Farm is Contributing to Singapore’s Food Security


Farmer Alan Toh has more than 30 years of experience in farming. As a young boy helping his father farm in kampungs, Alan developed a passion for farming and decided to turn it into his vocation. Today, he operates his own vegetable farm, growing a variety of leafy greens which are sold online and in-store through retailers like RedMart, Sheng Siong, and FairPrice Finest/Xtra. He spoke to us about his journey towards high-tech farming, the vegetables he grows, and how his farm supports food security for Singapore.


Tech-Based, Sustainable Vegetable Farming

Alan established Yili Farm in 1996. In the early days, he relied on traditional farming using “square nets with zero automation and manual labour for every process.” Since then, he has turned his farm into a modern operation leveraging production-enhancing technology tools. Incorporating soil-grown farming technology, semi-automated controlled-environment greenhouses, and packing machines “with automated processes and quality checks”, Yili Farm implements Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) for Vegetable Farming and is GAP-certified by Singapore Food Agency (SFA). It also composts its own waste.

When asked what he likes about being a farmer in Singapore, Alan said he gains satisfaction from knowing he plays a part in ensuring “Singaporeans have safe and quality food to eat”, as SFA conducts random checks on local produce “to control the amount of pesticides used for cultivation”.

Locally-grown produce are also fresher and more sustainable as they do not have to travel vast distances to get from farm to retail outlets. Alan said another major reason why consumers should buy Singapore-farmed produce is “to support your local farms and to protect our food security”, so that we are not over-reliant on imported produce from other countries.


Fresh, Nutritious Produce for Singapore

Yili Farm grows leafy vegetables like Cai Xin Hua, Xiao Bai Cai, Kang Kong, Sharp and Round Spinach. “Occasionally, for farmers’ markets, we also grow other varieties like Lettuce and Nai Bai,” Alan said.

These greens are highly nutritious, with each variety offering unique nutritional and health benefits.

Alan gave a few examples: Cai Xin Hua “promotes bone health” as it has the highest level of calcium in vegetables. Xiao Bai Cai is a good source of vitamins and minerals which are important for “regulating heart rate and blood pressure”. Kang Kong, on the other hand, is extremely rich in iron and calcium and “helps reduce cholesterol”. Spinach, which is one of the most nutritious vegetables with the highest level of protein, “is suitable for and widely favoured by kids!”


Alan’s Tips for Choosing and Preparing Leafy Greens

So, how can you tell if the leafy greens are fresh? Alan explained that when leafy greens are fresh, the leaves are not droopy and off colour.

When it comes to cooking and preparation, Alan likes to keep it simple and just “blanch the vegetables after washing,” or “stir fry spinach with some garlic and anchovies.”

According to Alan, Cai Xin Hua is most commonly stir fried with oyster sauce and topped with diced garlic, while Xiao Bai Cai is commonly stir fried with oyster sauce and garlic or blanched. Kang Kong is mild in flavour and is delicious when cooked with Sambal Belachan or chilli and garlic. Sharp Spinach is mostly used in soups, while Round Spinach tastes better stir fried.


Supporting Singapore’s Food Security

Alan’s modernised farm reflects the potential for automation and other agriculture technology tools to support higher yields and production. In addition, carefully controlled pesticide usage provides consumers here with access to safe, fresh and nutritious greens.

Local farmers like Alan will continue to play an important role in maintaining and improving Singapore’s food security in the coming years. In fact, Alan has successfully tendered for a new plot and plans to automate more farming processes in the future with the aim of “producing more for Singapore”.


Where to Buy Alan’s Greens

Accessing the fresh, nutritious produce Alan grows is easy: Yili Farm’s produce are available through both online and physical stores such as e-SG Farmers’ Market on RedMart, FairPrice Finest/Xtra, Sheng Siong, and Amazon.

Busy consumers might find ordering online to be the easiest option. As Alan said, “People can go online to get our produce at any time of the day, which is so convenient!”

Simply go to e-SG Farmers’ Market via this link: bit.ly/e-sgfm.