Memories of a Park: Co-founder Zac Toh’s Speech at the Launch of City Sprouts @ West Coast

Memories of a Park: Co-founder Zac Toh’s Speech at the Launch of City Sprouts @ West Coast

I remember fondly - cycling around well-contoured paths, starting from a bicycle with training wheels to going solo in my bicycle with the help of my late grandfather. 

As a kid, it was my hideout - my escape from the textbooks, the homework, and the seriousness that growing up entailed. I recall breathing in the fresh air that the matured trees provided. Some of them were planted by the community that lived around the area - one of the Kayu Arang trees was planted by my late grandmother, together with her grassroots. 

As I grew into a teenager, it was a space to meet new people - a place for countless evenings on the hardcourt, sweating it out after a game of basketball, and dreaming about the future. The blood, sweat, and tears on the hardcourt bonded our community in friendship and kinship.

And as I became a young adult, I met my other half on the hard court, while she watched me shooting hoops as the balls swished and went by. I believe that is what sealed the deal. 

Well, these are my memories of a park, and how Mayfair Park played that important role in my life. Growing up, finding my community, finding my love and life - these are memories and kinship that you wouldn’t trade anything for. To me, that is the importance of a park in the middle of a city in Singapore. And I believe that my memories of a park are similar to those of other Singaporeans, as well as people living in various cities around the world.

 

Members of the public exploring the Fullerton Fund Management Spice Garden at City Sprouts @ West Coast. Image courtesy of NParks.
Image courtesy of NParks.

 

When we found out about the opportunity to take part in the 1st Social Enterprise Community Urban Farm tender in 2022, we were elated. It was a dream come true - we felt like we were coming full circle, with City Sprouts creating someone’s next memory in the park, and serving as that foundation to be a place for various people to come together and build a stronger society. 

The road to launching this third community urban farm today has been quite the journey. We started in an old school in Henderson Road, and the journey since has been a long and winding one. 

When we started, it challenged me to really think about whether what we were doing as a young Social Enterprise was scalable. It made us really question how we could respect both hyperlocal communities, as well as serve to spotlight nation-wide agendas. And more importantly, how we could ensure that we, ourselves were sustainable, just as much as we championed sustainability.

After running my first urban green landscaping company, GWS Living Art, I came to realise that the value of green spaces was not just in beautifying our landscapes, but in bringing people and communities together. From there, City Sprouts took root in Henderson in 2019, taking over the Henderson Secondary School building and transforming the old building into an intergenerational community farm.

Despite the struggles of launching in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, City Sprouts has not just persisted, but expanded, with new nodes in Punggol and now West Coast.

Not only have we created a space for gardening and sustainability enthusiasts, we also have created spaces for communities and people of all walks of life to come together. More importantly, our nature spaces bring out the best in our community with our beneficiary and volunteering programmes that bring empowerment to all members of our community. We are also proud to support many local businesses and fellow social enterprises through our spaces.

City Sprouts has become more than just a farm - through patient and careful cultivation, it has served as a third place that people can call a home away from home.

 

Members of the public exploring a community farmers' greenhouse at City Sprouts @ West Coast.
Image courtesy of NParks.

 

The launch of City Sprouts @ West Coast today as Singapore’s first SECUF site with NParks is testament to the importance of places where like-minded individuals can come together, share their passions and ideas, and eventually grow into people and communities who champion the protection of the environment, and integrate the most vulnerable in society.

We are also excited to be here in West Coast Park. More than just a park, it is also a place that holds cultural, horticultural, and personal significance for many. 

West Coast Park is a place where we want communities continue to preserve their traditions and way of life, and also a place where we hope many people who have grown up or lived in the West will continue to take their morning walks, raise their kids, or just come to enjoy a moment away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

As this space continues to take shape, we hope that City Sprouts @ West Coast will become a place for many to call a home away from home, both as a green lifestyle hub and also as an open-ended space for the community to discover and enjoy nature in their own time and on their own terms.

 

Members of the public enjoying a community farmer's greenhouse on a farm tour at City Sprouts @ West Coast.

 

Alongside 33 Greenhouses and 40 community gardening plots available for independent farmers and gardeners to rent, here’s what we have to offer, thanks to our long term partners:

With OM Cafe, City Sprouts @ West Coast will have an F&B space for people to enjoy good, fresh food here in West Coast Park. City Sprouts will also work with them to support single, low-income women, children with special needs, and ex-convicts through food, art appreciation, and community initiatives.

Our partner Wildlings promotes nature play with their new school, giving children the opportunity to learn and play in nature in hope that they will one day learn to protect what they have grown to love.

With historical ties to West Coast Park, Orang Laut SG has been keeping alive the heritage and horticultural knowledge of the Orang Laut and Orang Pulau communities through tours, workshops, and sharings.

Together with Fullerton Fund Management, we have built a Spice Garden that offers not only therapeutic respite but also serves as a space for volunteering. The Spice Garden supports City Sprouts’ educational efforts by supplying spices such as pandan, basil, and chilli for workshops. Beside the Spice Garden is also a dedicated greenhouse for volunteers to practise horticulture and germinate crops.

We have also launched The Chilli Project, a collaboration between City Sprouts and Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities to empower individuals with disabilities to find equal employment opportunities in the horticultural sector.

And with St Luke’s ElderCare, Lions Befrienders, and other organisations that serve this neighbourhood in the West, we continue to work alongside our partners to ensure these spaces can be enjoyed by all.

 

Active seniors enjoying workshops at the City Sprouts @ West Coast launch event.

 

With these initiatives, we aim to highlight that a sustainable, greener future is only possible when it is also inclusive and accessible.

Finally, I would like to extend an invitation to all to join us in this new community. In addition to our greenhouses, City Sprouts @ West Coast is also home to 40 new community plots, which are open to residents of the West Coast area. Community gardeners who join us will have the opportunity to attend Makan Mondays sessions, gardening workshops, and other social initiatives and events.

Thank you for being with us today, and we hope to continue to see you here at City Sprouts @ West Coast.

 

The City Sprouts and NParks teams, along with Minister Desmond Lee, at the launch of City Sprouts @ West Coast.

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