How these NTU students are trying to educate young adults about local produce
You’re not just supporting local farmers when you buy local produce, you’re also making healthier choices.
The #supportlocal movement has taken off in recent years, with local artists, fashion designers and cafes enjoying increased support thanks to the movement.
However, a part of the local market seems to have been missed out – local farmers and their produce.
Despite a concerted effort from the Government and the 30 by 30 Green Plan (for 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs to be locally produced by 2030), Singaporeans still seem reluctant to buy from local farmers.
That’s what the Fresh Off The Dot campaign is trying to change, as it tries to bring local produce to young Singaporeans, particularly parents with young children.
Why buying local produce is important
Started by four students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), See Mun, Nicole, Madeline and Yi Ting, Fresh Off The Dot celebrates local produce and encourages young parents in particular to buy from local farmers.
All four girls are from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, and their efforts began as a final year project. They wanted to build a campaign around an aspect of sustainable living.
See Mun, the team’s head of business development and budget, said: “After doing some research, we discovered the Government has been doing a lot of things to amp up the supply side of things, but Singaporeans are still not buying local.
“If you buy local produce, you’re lowering your carbon footprint because it only has to travel from the farm in Singapore, not flown or driven in from across the border.”
Though sustainability is a large part of the campaign, it’s far from the only reason it is so important.
Nicole, the team’s head of content, said: “When you compare imported and local produce, local produce tends to be more expensive – but also much better for you. For example, eggs are prone to bacteria, so if they’re transported by truck into Singapore, you don’t know what they’re exposed to. Some might also crack.
“For veggies, up to 70 per cent of nutrients can be lost within 24 hours of harvest, so if it’s flown over and takes three days from a different country, you don’t know how much nutrients you’re still getting out of it – whereas for local produce, you know it was harvested that morning.”
Another reason Fresh Off The Dot is campaigning to support local farmers is because of food security.
The fact that 90 per cent of Singapore’s food is imported contributed to the panic buying during the pandemic. Should the 30 by 30 Green Plan be successful, Singaporeans will be able to feel more secure in their food supply.
That’s why the campaign is named the way it is – not only is the food much fresher and more nutritious than imported food, it also emphasises that it’s all grown and harvested right here on our “little red dot”, and won’t be subjected to anything that affects vendors overseas.
Fighting current perceptions of local produce
Despite all the benefits of buying local produce, the team found many barriers preventing Singaporeans from supporting the movement with their wallets.
When they surveyed 200 parents who were expecting or had young children, 83 per cent did not know that there are over 100 farms in Singapore, and 52 per cent felt that sourcing for local produce was inconvenient.
In addition, 54 per cent of respondents were unaware of the SG Fresh Produce logo, which is pasted on products that were sourced locally.
“A lot of people don’t really see the importance of supporting local, they might think that they already have so much food, so they don’t need to care about where it’s from. That’s where we come in,” Nicole explained.
Of the respondents, 78 per cent also stated that they were likely to purchase cheaper options when grocery shopping, regardless of the country of origin.
Unfortunately, this rules out a lot of local produce, as prices for locally sourced items tend to be higher.
“Singapore has very strict production regulations for food. That being said, most of the farms here are pesticide-free because of this, which makes it more nutritious,” Nicole explained.
Despite these discouraging numbers, the team has found a community that passionately supports local produce. Through their research and work, the team has also found and begun to work with associations like The Local Farm and Kranji Countryside Association.
“All the farmers we’ve interacted with are so passionate, and they’ve all been in the industry for a long time even if it’s not the easiest business,” See Mun said.
The girls went on to talk about how it was seeing this passion in action that made them want to change their own buying habits, and how they had started actively seeking out farmers’ markets, looking for the SG Fresh Produce sticker, and paying more attention to the local produce scene via companies like The Local Farm.
How they hope to impact the local scene
At the moment, Fresh Off The Dot has received the National Youth Council’s Young ChangeMakers Grant. While this is only part of the funding they are looking to secure, they have already made strides with the money they’ve received by beginning to collaborate with sustainable organisations and running advertisements.
See Mun said: “At the moment we’re in talks with The Local Farm- they have a subscription box where local produce is delivered to customers’ door weekly for three months, and we want to create a Fresh Off The Dot addition or fun pack in conjunction with that.
“We are also looking to hold a very small-scale event for parents with young kids. It’ll be hands-on and interactive, expose them to the local produce scene, and hopefully be quite educational.”
The team is running advertisements on social media to promote the project, and are also looking for family influencers to reach their target audience.
When asked about the lasting impact they wanted Fresh Off The Dot to have, their answer was simple.
Nicole said: “Getting people to change their behaviour and habits is difficult, so we just want to help educate people so they can make more informed choices. Just identifying and buying one locally produced item when grocery shopping is already a huge step forward.
“People think of local produce as expensive, but when it comes to trendy luxury items, they’re willing to spend. We want to angle local produce in such a way that people see it as worth spending on, because it helps Singapore’s food security and is healthier for you and your family.”