Sustainable food is a necessity, not a trend. This is a firmly held belief of Benjamin Swan, CEO and co-founder of Sustenir Agriculture, a regional fresh produce retailer. Swan feels modern customers are a blessed bunch who are able to conveniently access a wide range of foods through multiple touchpoints. But no matter their choice, one thing that consumers prize is freshness.
That’s where Sustenir Agriculture comes into the picture. In 2015, Swan launched an urban farming company in Singapore. It utilized indoor vertical farms to grow non-native crops in a sustainable manner all year round, through Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).
Sustenir Agriculture expanded to Hong Kong, and later to Malaysia in April 2021. Their Malaysian farm is built inside Dairy Farm Group’s distribution center in Kajang. After its crops are harvested daily, the farm-to-distribution delivery is made on foot. This makes them Malaysia’s first zero-mile smart farm.
"Importing perishables not only contributes to food waste but also carbon emissions, which is unsustainable for the future of our food supply," says Swan.
wan is a bit of an accidental champion for this cause. He started off his career as an engineer and project manager. He came to Singapore from Australia after he was appointed to lead the construction of the Skypark at Marina Bay Sands. He then decided to stay in Singapore, joining Citibank to design their Smart Banking Platform.
At the same time, Swan was struck by the disparate standards in fresh food between Singapore and Australia. He became passionate about growing fresh greens in land-scarce Singapore after discovering the benefits of vertical farming.
"Being a pioneer in vertical farming in Southeast Asia, I’ve had to have a lot of conviction about what I was doing in the early days. Vertical farming as it was conceptualized then was designed for large-scale warehouses, not tight spaces inside office buildings. We’ve been able to innovate and design a plug and play system that fits into any indoor office building, making us up to 178 times more productive than the traditional farm,” says Swan.
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