According to Shina Teo of Singapore-based Aeroponics farm Straits Agriculture, vertical growers need to strategically plan what they are growing, considering how quickly demand might change. “We do market research so we can get the customers to tell us what veggies they’d like. In this way, we can better focus our efforts.”
The company indeed started because one of the founder’s demands wasn’t being met. Shina’s brother Leonard set up the farm because he wanted to grow his own veggies, as he was frustrated with the sub-par offers he was seeing in the market.
Shina and Leonard Teo
After some intensive research, he came across Aeroponics technology, decided to use growing towers and the family business was ready to go. Their mom, Eileen, is involved too, she does the accounting as well as farming. Everyone is helping out running the farm.
Parking lot greenhouse
The 10 growing towers of Straits Agriculture are placed inside a greenhouse located on a plot sharing land. The farm is covered with a few layers of nets to keep pests out. At the same time, the company is in the works of expanding into a bigger greenhouse, that is currently already built on a rooftop and holds 54 more growing towers.
The goal is to keep operating costs low. “All our systems are automated, and don’t really require people to manually take care of them every day,” says she.
Thanks to the Aeroponics system, Straits Agriculture can save a lot of water, which helps drive the cost down. It is crucial to be smart with water management, as the costs of raw materials are increasing, according to Shina. Other things are also becoming increasingly costly, such as fertilizers “The highest cost for us is indeed nutrients, as we have to import them.”
Novelty food production
On average, Straits Agriculture produces around 24 kgs of produce every month. Although they grow what the market demands at a given moment, they mainly grow Asian greens, such as Bok Choy and Milk Cabbage. “Those are the type of veggies our customers prefer the most.”
People are not only interested in fresh greens, but also in how Straits grow them. Shina says that their landlord organizes a lot of events that bring a lot of people to the area. When they see the greenhouses, they are impressed by the novelty of growing food in towers. “They didn’t expect that such a thing would exist in Singapore.”
As an effort Shina is very well focused on having the rooftop farm completed, she is also very much focused on educating people on agriculture and how urban farms can contribute to food security. “We want to help them set up systems on their own.
There’s a lot of R&D that needs to be done on our side to make sure that our cultivation systems work inside houses. We are still quite small as we are fully self-funded. But in the near future, we might explore further R&D as a separate business arm”