Edible Garden in the Sky

Secret recipe to a truly green meal

Issue: Apr 2010

Fairmont Singapore’s Executive Sous Chef, Nathan Brown, in the hotel’s green oasis
Fairmont Singapore’s Executive Sous Chef, Nathan Brown, in the hotel’s green oasis.

Every morning, Executive Sous Chef of Fairmont Singapore, Nathan Brown, heads to the fifth level of the hotel even before he hits the kitchen. This has been his routine since 2008. There, against the silver skyline of the city, Brown does a spot of gardening in the establishment’s very own organic Herb Garden.

“I take care of the watering and transplanting of the plants, aerating of the soil, all the harvesting and distribution of the herbs to the various outlets in the hotel,” says Brown. “I watch the herbs grow to learn about their growing patterns. For example, when you water them is very important because doing so at the wrong time can ‘hurt’ the plants.”

The designated Herb Gardener in one of only a handful of sky farms in Singapore owned and run by a hotel or restaurant, Brown has had 14 years of culinary experience. Although he has had no prior encounter with herbs, this Canadian did grow up in a horse farm in rural Ontario and his parents had always had a vegetable plot providing the family with beans, tomatoes, swiss chards, pumpkins, zucchinis, carrots, and parsnips. Since he was young, he has worked closely with neighbouring farmers to gather fresh berries for jams and preserves and is blessed with a “green finger”, possessing the uncanny knack of coaxing even the most stubborn of herbs to blossom.

“The most difficult plant to grow for me was the chilli padi. People I spoke to told me how easy it was but mine just didn’t thrive. Then I decided to move them around the garden until I found a spot that was most suitable for them to grow,” he reveals.

Green Plan

Succulent chilli from the hotel’s own organic garden
Succulent chilli from the hotel’s own organic garden.

The hotel’s Herb Garden, spanning a decent 90 square metres, is the brainchild of Fairmont Singapore’s General Manager and Regional Vice President, Ian Wilson, who has a quarter century’s worth of experience in various Fairmont properties in Canada and was, himself, a former chef.

“It has always been our hope to minimize our establishment’s carbon footprint on the planet by growing some of our own produce. That’s why we decided to have the garden. It also complements the hotel’s mission of creating greater awareness for healthy and organic cuisine for guests,” says Wilson.

Chef Otto Weibel showing off the fruits of his labour
Chef Otto Weibel showing off the fruits of his labour.

Because everything the garden grows goes to the tables of the various restaurants in the hotel, the man who decides what to plant is the hotel’s very own Director of Kitchens, Chef Otto Weibel.

“My team and I started with a wide selection of plants but some were extremely difficult to grow so over time, some items were replaced with those that could be easily maintained and grow successfully,” says Weibel.

The Herb Garden now has 24 different types of herbs ranging from the usual thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, basil, sweet basil, coriander, parsley, mint, and mint grass to more Asian herbs like laksa leaves, curry leaves, pandan leaves and lemongrass. The garden also boasts lemon, green pepper and yellow chilli plants.

Taking the green plan one step further, Fairmont Singapore creates its own compost that serves as natural fertilizers for the plants. Thousands of cultured worms are kept in a worm condo of sorts called Can-O-Worms right in the garden. Their waste products or castings, which are rich in nutrients, are then collected and used as both fertilizer and soil conditioner.

A Wholesome Experience

Pan-fried scallop scented with bay leaf from the Herb Garden & cauliflower mousse
Pan-fried scallop scented with bay leaf from the Herb Garden & cauliflower mousse.

Fairmont Singapore’s green philosophy extends beyond providing guests with organic, healthy cuisine from locally-grown or fair trade products whenever possible. The hotel believes in giving its guests a complete, green experience by sharing with them Fairmont’s pioneering Green partnership programmes and initiatives through an interactive food journey that begins with a tour of the Herb Garden where they can harvest their own herbs before attending a hands-on cooking demonstration of a special dish using the fresh herbs that have been harvested and capping the experience with a three-course meal for two inclusive of a glass of wine and coffee.

A Glimpse into a Green Future

Although there are, as yet, few establishments which offer food from the roof, a survey of such opportunities in Singapore estimated that the country has potentially 1,000 hectares of urban rooftops available for fresh vegetable production which translates into nearly 200,000 tonnes of produce a year. This would amount to replacing more than half of Singapore’s annual consumption of fresh vegetables which are mostly imported from abroad at the moment. Going local would mean savings on the cost of fossil fuel, reducing carbon footprint and all in all contributing to a greener Earth.

Now that’s food for thought.

User Susan
219.74.123.X | 2011-11-11 15:38:27
I had stumbled on this Fairmont Hotel sky garden writeup by chance when I googled for herbs farm visit in Spore. Its very interesting & do hope more buildings of all types in Spore could have space made for Sky Gardens. Hopefully the whole world could adopt this idea inorder to help cool down this sick earth as more natures are giving way to concrete buildings for dwellings & industrial purposes! Lets return some oxygen to Mother Nature before more global alarms hit us badly.....
User Ajith Kumar.K.N.
218.186.10.X | 2011-08-27 22:31:21
Sky farming (Urban-rooftop farming)is the most suitable farming practice,Singapore can promote.Being a futuristic city with fine governing,Singapore can show the world,how to face food security&global warming concerns.
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