Innovator Insider: Olivia Choong, The Tender Gardener

In a land scarce city with prominence in technology and development, little attention is paid to Singapore’s urban eco environment. Introducing Olivia Choong - an eco champion on many fronts. She shares her journey and thoughts on creating environmental awareness and sustainable living.

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Who is Olivia?

I’m an environmental advocate and writer, keen on leading a self sufficient life and being in nature. I run an environmental non-profit called Green Drinks (Singapore), where we raise awareness on environmental issues, mainly through monthly events and our online social media platforms. I also write a blog about gardening and urban farming, where I hope to make this activity and knowledge accessible to everyone. In a nutshell, my focus is to connect people to nature and community.

I’m not the kind of woman to let a good fantasy go to waste”. I can’t remember who said this, but I recall that this lady has a nice garden!

On Her Interest in the Caring about the Environment

While studying in Perth, Australia, I became aware of the need to care for the earth and be mindful of depleting its resources, but it was only after watching Live Earth in 2007 that I felt compelled to take an active role in raising awareness on environmental issues.

After meeting my boyfriend, who was then living rurally, with a bit of land for growing vegetables, I decided to start a new blog focused on sustainable living to document my personal journey towards self sufficiency. I also wanted to share tips that I learned along the way, and use it as a platform to raise awareness of having a handmade and eco lifestyle.

On Her Struggles

In the beginning, the challenge for Green Drinks (Singapore) was to find a venue which would host us for free, and for people to see that we were credible and here to stay, not a fad hobby group. It’s been close to 9 years now, and people are more open to partnering us. We raise awareness of environmental issues and the challenge is to encourage a switch in perception. We still face resistance from different stakeholders, who think it is ok for deforestation in the name of progress but it’s a sign that we have to organise ourselves better.

The Tender Gardener was well received and I haven’t experienced any struggles so far. People have been happy to open their gardens for me to photograph, and I have met many lovely people at events and workshops.

On Sustainability

From living remotely in a rainforest, and amongst self sufficient homesteads, I realised how much knowledge and skills we have lost by living in the city. Also, I learned how to live lean, and how important it is to work towards a zero waste habit, because we need to cart our trash to the garbage tip, where it is weighed and we are charged accordingly. It was also a long drive to buy food (and everything else), so it made sense to grow our own, and be as resourceful as possible to save money where we can. Sustainable living is a nice ideal but we need to work towards regenerative living.

On Embarking on a Sustainable lifestyle

I think it’s wonderful that Singaporeans are more connected to their food, and keen on growing their own edible, medicinal and ornamental plants. When I flip through interiors magazines, I notice a lack of plants, as a result, the space looks cold and hard. I think that through gardening, people begin to notice details in the everyday, and it can also increase one’s appreciation of aesthetics and nature.  

Focus on easy changes, such as buying local and organic where possible. Shop responsibly, and ask the question – where does this come from, did it travel a long way to get here, and buy fairly traded products where possible. There is an increasing number of Fair Trade chocolates, tea and coffee.

On Her Current Plan

I’m working on a campaign to encourage conscious consumption in Singapore, a children’s book that raises awareness of marine trash, and a home project to increase food productivity in my garden. I recently completed a permaculture design course, and am making plans to live and work on farms in coming months to gain experience.

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