In Singapore, When You Can’t Grow Out, You Grow Up

BY Larisa Epatko  June 12, 2013 at 11:47 AM EDT

Sam Eaton of Homelands Productions visits Singapore’s farm towers in the next “Food for 9 Billion” report airing Wednesday on the PBS NewsHour.

Singapore’s skyline is composed mostly of skyscrapers, so it’s no wonder residents are looking up when they’re considering places to grow fruits and vegetables in this high-density Asian island.

Entrepreneur Jack Ng has taken it a step further by developing a series of rotating vertical farms encased in aluminum towers, where produce, such as lettuce, cabbage and bok choy, grow. Gravity-aided water wheels, which take little electricity, rotate the plant trays up and down, so workers can tend to the seedlings.

Ng sells his produce under the name SkyGreens in grocery stores, providing consumers an alternative to imported products. But SkyGreens produce costs about 10 percent more than the shipped vegetables, so Ng can recoup the cost of building the towers.

The Singapore government wants the island to become more self-sufficient as a food source, so it is helping fund projects such as Ng’s geared toward increasing domestic food production.

It also wants the prices of locally grown food to be competitive.

“Whatever we produce in Singapore must compete with the prices of vegetables coming in Singapore,” said Lee Sing Kong, director of Singapore’s National Institute of Education, in Eaton’s report. “That’s why the government in Singapore is now encouraging models of urban farming that can really not just increase productivity, but also lowering cost of production.”

Watch the full broadcast report:

More in the Food for 9 Billion Series:

“Food for 9 Billion” is a PBS NewsHour collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Public Radio International’s The World, American Public Media’s Marketplace and Homelands Productions.