Seeking Wellness from the Earth

Commentary / 1st Quarter 2024

Seeking Wellness from the Earth

by Hoa Nguyen

March 20, 2024

For the past year in 2023, I have been a regular at City Sprouts, a community farm in the heart of Singapore. Every Thursday at 9am, I along with five other volunteers am guided by our dedicated volunteer coordinator on a three-hour journey through the farm. The tasks vary each week, depending on the farm’s needs. Sometimes, we trim basil plants; other times, we dig holes for repotting papayas. Almost always, we engage in a love-hate relationship with cutting up dead leaves for the compost bin.

After half a day of hard work under the sun and in the soil, we are rewarded with a tea session, featuring herbs freshly picked from the garden. Our blend includes lemongrass, mint, the much-loved passionfruit marigold, and Mexican tarragon—a herb believed to enhance sleep quality.

During these sessions, we would reflect on how to attract more volunteers and grow the programme. These discussions would inevitably lead back to why each of us joined. Our group is diverse: I am a mid-career professional passionate about community activities and sustainable urban practices; Madam Ping, 73, prefers the farm over mahjong, believing in the health benefits of vitamin D from sunshine and physical activity; and Mary, 50, an experienced gardener, who finds new learning opportunities with each visit.

We may have come for different reasons, but it is clear why we stay—the 1-hectare urban farm, together with its gardening routines, rejuvenates us physically and mentally, while creating a community out of these perfect strangers.


In the bustling cities of the world, from Singapore and Bangkok to New York City, land is a premium commodity that is rarely allocated for agriculture. These urban landscapes progressively phase out agricultural functions, creating a dependence on surrounding areas and suburban buffers. Residents dwell in box-like apartments, high above the ground, far removed from the earth beneath them, and purchase their daily essentials from sources unknown to most.

In recent years, spaces like City Sprouts have been experiencing a resurgence. This trend, accelerated by the pandemic, has seen the increasing importance of health and well-being in the discussion of what quality living means.

The definition of health and well-being now encompasses the physical aspects as well as the mental, emotional and cognitive health. Well-being becomes part of daily life, and people seek it in the immediate environments and activities that they carry out. Gardening, for example, has witnessed a significant surge in popularity, underscoring both the desire to participate in activities in nature, and an interest in nutritional health.

City Sprouts stands as one of the few public urban farms in land-scarce Singapore, recognising that an individual’s connection to land and food production extends far beyond mere functional and survival needs. Alongside a few traditional and high-tech commercial farms rapidly expanding in line with Singapore’s 30-by-30 goal—aiming to produce 30 per cent of the country’s nutritional needs locally by 2030—organisations like City Sprout prioritise community and advocacy as much as food production. 

With this perspective, cities globally will need to reintegrate agriculture into their urban fabric to promote better health and well-being, and to balance their functions. Food production and gardening are inherently inclusive, possessing a unique power to equalise and enable participation by all.

Hoa Nguyen is an urban planner and researcher with a particular interest in community engagement, participatory planning and citizen empowerment. Hoa also leads many thought leadership projects and writings on the topic of conservation, community development and the future of planning. She wishes to be an instrument for others to realise homes and communities in the places they live.

Read more stories from FuturArc 1Q 2024: Health/Wellness!


3 Roe, J., & McCay, L. (2022). Restorative cities: Urban Design for Mental Health and Well-being. Bloomsbury Visual Arts.

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