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Chef Ryan Clift gardens for new restaurant Open Farm Community

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Clift has his concept down to the last detail.

“We’re essentially trying to build a community farm project so it’s open to anybody. We’re doing regular farmer’s markets, pop up garden shops, edible garden training classes, a kid’s area, informative activities that are community-based.”

Clift readily acknowledges he has no green fingers, but growing his own produce came out of his frustration from importing delicate flowers and herbs from Europe and having to throw most of them away by the time they get here. “You pay 25 cents a leaf for nasturtium and they’re all dead when they come. Or one punnet (of herbs or flowers) costs S$18 and S$7 goes into the bin. It’s a waste and I hate wasting food. But now I can pick buckets and it costs like S$4.”

For this, he credits Edible Gardens’ Low for proving all the naysayers wrong. “For years people told me it couldn’t be done in Singapore because of the temperature and the soil but Bjorn has proved it can be done.” Their proudest success has been to successfully grow borage flowers “which are easy to get in Europe but 50 per cent is dead when you get it. But Bjorn succeeded and now we have them”.

Clift hopes that Open Farm Community (OFC) will inspire others to follow suit because “the more people who get involved the better it is for the environment”. He adds: “I’m not a greenie or a hippie but it’s important to be responsible. The fact that Singapore imports pretty much everything, the more restaurants that can do it, the better it is for the environment and for the consumer at the end of the day.”

While OFC marks a departure from what he has been doing at Tippling Club, “it’s something I’m passionate about,” says Clift. And now that he has enough chefs working with him, he’s able to devote his time to being “purely creative”. He expects to be cooking in OFC for the first couple of months at least to make sure everything runs smoothly. As for the manpower crunch, Clift says: “Just by talking to (potential staff) about going into the garden and picking their own herbs – everybody’s taken the job immediately and we’re nearly fully staffed. And all are Singaporeans.”

Obviously, they’re buying into the same motivation as Clift as he says: “Imagine waking up in the morning and thinking, ‘ok, that’s ready to be picked – I’ll just put that on the menu today’. It’s so exciting.”

This article was first published in The Business Times Weekend on April 11-12 2015.