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story | Michelle Lee, Staff Writer
photo | Kingfisher Urban Farms
The Kingfisher Urban Farms (KUFs) initiative led by Yale-NUS College’s sustainability movement I’dECO has been turning fresh fruit compost into plant fertilizers on campus. This compost has been used to fertilize a large selection of plants, which have been harvested to make meals and distributed to the staff around Yale-NUS.
Last semester, KUFs intermittently collected fruit peels such as banana peels from the dining halls for their compost system which was in turn used to fertilize a variety of crops such as eggplants, bitter gourds, roselle and aloe vera, which they grew in their farm outside Cendana Dining Hall.
At the beginning of this semester, KUFs members collected several rounds of compost. They have since stopped compost collection for the rest of this semester.
In KUFs’ composting system, compost piles made up of fruit peels and dead leaves are left in plastic containers outside Professor Marvin Montefrio’s apartment on the third floor of Cendana Tower B. These containers have holes drilled into them allowing aeration and decomposition to take place.
Mr. Montefrio frequently joins the farming sessions. Goh Wanling ’21 said, “[Professor Montefrio] gives us much guidance and direction to help us make the planters while coordinating the necessary logistics in composting. The compost is a vital and economic source of nutrients for the plants since our farm is organic and we avoid adding any artificial fertilizers.”
Mr. Montefrio’s wife, Yasmin Y. Ortiga, also actively helps improve KUFs by introducing methods to maintain the compost. Her experience creating compost in her Cendana apartment contributed to redesigning the system when it was overloaded upon using grapefruit peels that took longer to decompose. Under Mr. Montefrio and Ms. Ortiga’s supervision, they reconditioned the system after discovering an imbalance caused by a lack of carbon-rich materials, such as dried leaves.
KUFs is currently expanding. This effort is led by Goh, along with Lee Xin Run ’19 and Kurumi Ota ’21. Apart from growing fresh vegetables in the Urban Farm, the members have begun growing seedlings in their suites. Wanling said, “We often take germination trays back to our suites and sky gardens to facilitate the germination of seeds, as the open, outdoor conditions of the Farm are too harsh. Once the saplings have matured, we transplant them back to the Farm”.
After harvesting its greens, the members of the KUFs initiative gathered for a Filipino-themed cooking session with Mr. Montefrio earlier this semester. With the vegetables grown on their farm, KUFs members were able to make dishes of spinach and tomato frittata, mung bean soup with water spinach, chicken adobo with rice, as well as sparkling blue butterfly pea tea. Goh said, “It was the first time we were able to eat the food we had grown, so it was an exciting celebratory meal!”
Although KUFs does not grow large quantities of spinach or alugbati, they harvest more than enough for their cooking sessions. Instead of putting them into the compost, they share it with the staff who clean the public spaces.
IdECO’s Urban Farm has come a long way since its formation by Ho Yan Lin ’17 , Elizabeth Heng ’18 and Jeffrey Tong ’18. Heng said, “I actually spent some time during my first-year summer on a programme by World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) at an organic meat and vegetable farm in West Virginia, and that inspired us to start an urban farm in Yale-NUS the semester we returned. We didn’t think of a compost system back then. We began with only a few planters!”. Kim Hoong ’18 was another dedicated member of the Urban Farm and has continued farming with the Citizen Farm in Singapore since graduating.
The Kingfisher Urban Farm’s presence has increased over the years. Cendana Rector Neil Clarke’s continuous support of KUFs using Cendana’s underutilized spaces has been a contributing factor to the success of the Urban Farm. Having more space will allow them to expand the farm and construct more movable planter beds.
KUFs currently meets up every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning to farm. In future rounds of collection, KUFs will set up the bins to collect fresh waste once the current compost is used up.