I was in awe of my surroundings. I couldn’t believe how many trees, plants and other flora that was in front of me. Even though I was staring at it, I still couldn’t believe that there was a farm in Singapore. There is a a tiny, thriving farm in the middle of this urban jungle. The minute I arrived, I was meeting the employees and volunteers. Not only were they friendly but they all replied to me “Oh YOU’RE Amanda. We were expecting you. Welcome!” After a few introductions, Hui Ying let me put my luggage down in my two-week home and let me tell you I was not disappointed.
Afterwards I met up with John, the main full-time farmer at the Ground-Up Initiative who I’d be assisting for the duration of my stay. He gave me an introduction of the farm, list of tasks I’d be doing and the wwoofer notebook. I was put in charge of maintaining the vegetable garden, helping other volunteers and workers and basically anything else John needed help with.
Before I went to sleep, I decided to read the Wwoofer book. Inside there were stories from at least seven wwoofers from America, Israel, Vietnam, etc who all said nothing but positive things about their time on the Kampung Kampus. I fell asleep, hoping that my presence would be just as helpful as theirs had been.
The Singapore Farmer Life
On an average work day with the Ground-Up Initiative, I woke up at 7:30 am to a lovely view of trees and helped myself to the bread and jam in the kitchen.
My daily tasks as a wwoofer varied day by day but overall, these were my basic jobs.
1. Check and refill the water pump.
So my first task of the day was to check and refill the farms’ water pump. While the Ground-Up Initative collects and uses rain water, they also gather water from the stream. Because I was one of the people in charge of the plants and crops and the first to come to work, I had to make sure there was enough supply for both me and the other staff members to use throughout the day. It sounds easy enough except that it’s not as simple as flipping the on-switch.
After checking the water level, I had to switch certain levers on in a certain order and a certain amount of times. In addition to that, I had to listen for the sound of the pump to make sure it was working properly, if not then I had to adjust the levers. If I did not turn on the pump properly, it would break and not only would it cost a lot of money and time to replace but it would be harder to water the plants. I was completely nervous about the pump and honestly, it took me a while to get a grip on it. Thanks to John and Mr. Tang, another volunteer, I eventually conquered my fear and mastered the art of pumping water.
2. Maintain the crops and plants.
My boss, John, is a busy guy and is one of the few full-time workers with the Ground-Up Initiative. My biggest and most important task was to maintain his garden in the sun house and outside.
While Singapore is a huge urban country with great air-conditioning, it is still an island with a humid and hot climate. Basically, I discovered that watering gardens in Singapore was different than watering gardens in New Jersey. Every morning, afternoon and evening, I checked the moisture of the soil. If it was still damp, it was okay but if it was dry, usually in the afternoon or so, I spent from thirty minutes to half an hour watering the plants, especially in the green house. It is much harder and more time-consuming than it sounds. It was my most important job because we wanted to offer a selection of organic crops for visitors, hoping to spark their interest in farming and outdoor activities.
3. Assist the other volunteers and staff.
When I wasn’t checking on water levels or taking care of the crops, I bounced around the farm helping out anyone in need with tasks. On weekends, I joined Johns’ volunteer group in gardening, construction and any other physical labor. However, when I wasn’t with the other volunteers, I was asked by Mr. Tan, also known as Uncle Tan, for help on his projects.
Uncle Tan is one of the oldest workers at the Ground-Up Initiative who acts as a father figure to the other volunteers, including myself. Although he barely speaks English (Mandarin/Singlish being his mother tongue), his acts of kindness, including snack offers and eagerness to share his culture, spoke more than any language could. The first day that we met, he invited me to his coffee stand (which he built himself), and offered me beverages and homemade soup. As I was one of the few consistent volunteers, Uncle Tan was probably one of the people on the farm that I formed an unexpected friendship with.
I was fortunate enough to have a Mandarin level high enough where I could have a basic conversation with Uncle Tan. I was able to communicate how eager I was to be immersed in Singaporean culture. Once I let Uncle Tan know, he made certain to give me insight to his daily life. He not only treated me to some Singaporean dishes but also took me to the temple that he goes to and volunteers at daily on Tomb-Sweeping Day.
To have someone give me such a memorable experience is remarkable. After my time in Singapore with Uncle Tan, he easily became one of the most memorable characters I came across on my travels.
What did I learn from this experience?
The work on the farm was not easy. After every day I’d be covered in sweat and dirt yet sometimes I felt that I could never complete a task as well as the other Ground-Up Initiative volunteers. For example, due to my fear of breaking the farms’ water pump, I struggled with using it properly. Normally, I would have avoided using the water pump as I would have been too frustrated with myself to do anything. However, after my time, I realized that I became better with admitting my mistakes and reaching out to others for help. This is something I have struggled with for a while so it was fortunate I had a chance to begin overcoming this issue.
Reflecting on my enjoyment of being surrounded by the volunteers and guests of the farm and my willingness to be part of a team, I concluded ideal types of careers for myself. I now know that I am destined for a job where not only am I physically and mentally active but also interacting with people as often as I can. The Ground-Up Initiative is an organization of those in Singapore who have skill sets and passions that all add to the farms’ mission for community outreach. In the future, I feel I am suited for an environment like the Kampung Kampus.
My decision to go to Singapore to work on a farm was probably one of the best and most eye-opening experience throughout my travels this past year. Career wise, I am more experienced and sure of what type of work I am interested in. Most importantly, living and working for the Ground-Up Initiative gave me a rare and unique insight to the local Singaporean life. I hope that the Ground-Up Initiative can continue to bring together a community in this urban jungle. Overall, I recommend any opportunities similar to wwoofing.