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A lilypad pond built out of an old bathtub. A composting station where earthworms recycle food scraps into fertiliser. An enormous “spider” made out of plastic bottles and black trash bags.

These are just a few of the intriguing projects found in this urban garden at Block 112, Bishan Street 12.

But it’s more than just a Green Hub (as its creators call it), it’s a community meeting point too.

One of its projects is a community fridge that stocks free food items for residents, including vegetables, fruit and unsold bread from local bakeries.

Like the Green Hub, the community fridge is kept open 24/7, accessible to all who pass by. It’s a boon to residents in the community, who return the favour by supporting the project.

Says Fen Ng, chairman of the Bishan East Zone 1 Residents Committee (RC), which started the project: “Every week we have food rescues… yesterday, we had three in a day! It wouldn’t work in places where there’s no volunteers (to support the food rescue efforts). The food would be all left outside, and the boxes would be all over the place.”

Urban Garden
A glimpse into the Bishan East Zone 1 Green Hub. Image source: Hana Chen

The Green Hub was launched in January last year as an urban community garden that showcased different gardening concepts.

Due to the Covid-19 restrictions at the time, the RC was unable to conduct its usual community outreach events. After some brainstorming, the committee came up with the idea for the Green Hub, an urban greenscape that residents could safely engage with.

The project started small, with just 10 stations to showcase different gardening concepts, but quickly blossomed.

Now, the Green Hub has over 30 stations divided into the five core concepts — Art, Lifestyle, Sustainability, Community, and Greenery.

Greenery as far as the eye can see

Urban Garden Singapore
A volunteer posing with an eggplant bush in the Green Hub. Image source: Bishan East Zone 1 RC

When The Pride visits the Green Hub, it’s a warm Wednesday evening. The residents are out and about — students on their way home from school, aunties and uncles out for their evening walk.

It’s a peaceful scene, complemented by the lush greenery of the community space, and it’s here that I meet Fen.

Fen, who works as a corporate communications manager (RC chairman is a volunteer role), is the personification of neighbourly warmth — friendly, upbeat and welcoming. She has been involved in the development of the community space from the get-go, and it’s clear that she takes pride in what they’ve achieved over the past sixteen months.

Singapore Urban Garden
One of the green shelters set up in the Green Hub. Image source: Hana Chen

And they’ve managed to accomplish a lot.

“We’re one of the first to do a 24/7 open concept community garden in Singapore, and it’s been very well-received. If you sit here (in the Green Hub) for long enough, you’ll see different residents come in, new faces every day, and there’ll be one part of the garden that attracts and engages them.”

There’re the gardening stations — a sensory forest trail of flora planted in recycled tyres, “green shelters” for plants rescued from around the neighbourhood, aquariums for fish and terrariums for succulents.

There’re the “science-y” stations — smart recycling and food composting machines accessed via smartphone apps , a bioreactor fermentation station, and even vertical aeroponic urban planters (yes, they grow in air).

And then there’re the community stations — a small book-swapping library for children and adults, a nostalgia corner full of retro items, and a series of wall murals showcasing artwork by the late Sarkasi Said, a Cultural Medallion winner who was a Bishan resident.

Not just an urban garden

Urban Garden In Singapore
The Eco-Living station in the Green Hub. Image source: The Pride

While nature is one of the key driving forces behind the space, equally prominent in the Green Hub are the themes of sustainability and community.

The RC tries to avoid buying anything new for the space unless absolutely necessary. Instead, most of the stations are built with repurposed donations from residents and partners.

SG Urban Garden
Kitchen appliances that have been repurposed as planters by the RC. Image source: Hana Chen

That is how a bathtub becomes a pond, and kitchen appliances find a new lease on life as planters.

Even the decorations that the RC uses for seasonal events are made from recycled materials — there’s a Christmas tree made out of recycled plastic bottles, and a rangoli design sewn with donated fabric.

Recently, it even came in 1st place in Singapore Kindness Movement’s HoodChampions’ Hari Raya Decoration competition by creating an eco-kampung and eco-sampan out of recycled materials.

It’s a testament to the hard work of the community of volunteers in the neighbourhood, many of whom have taken the time to contribute their own talents, be it upcycling or gardening, to creating a beautiful space for their community.

“Many residents came forward to help us,” shares Fen, “they take a personal ownership in this space, in keeping it clean and tidy … we make sure it’s very welcoming to residents.”

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One of the residents is Soni, who has lived in Bishan since 1992. She was passing by on her way home when she noticed the volunteers doing a late-night restock of the community fridge and decided to chip in.

“I often use the book-swap corner to find new books and share my old ones,” she says. It was the first time she had actively helped the regular volunteers.

The upkeep of the Green Hub is undertaken by the RC’s Green Club, a group of gardening enthusiasts from the neighbourhood who maintain the different stations. Other residents also contribute to the space — the neighbourhood has small communities of upcyclists, aquarists, and more, all of whom have lent their talents and expertise to the hub.

Community fridge that keeps on giving

Urban Garden SG
Volunteers in front of the Green Hub’s Harvest Fridge. Image source: Bishan East Zone 1 RC

Beyond caring for the plants and gardening stations, the Green Club plays a key role in another of the Green Hub’s projects — the Z1 Harvest Fridge.

As the name suggests, the Z1 Harvest Fridge is a community fridge, located in the eco-kitchen area of the Green Hub. It serves the neighbourhood by providing free food items, including cookies, grapes, and more.

All the items in the fridge are rescued from local food businesses and retailers. The RC works with local food rescue organisations such as Kampung Bishan and Fridge Restock Community SG to ensure that these rejected foodstuffs do not go to waste.

A typical food rescue goes like this — when the food rescuers have items, they contact the RC. The RC then notifies the Green Club volunteers, who then mobilise to support the food rescue.

These food rescues often happen at odd hours of the day since they’re dependent on the availability of the food items and volunteers. And while some might find it tedious to make their way to rescue “ugly” produce, the Green Club volunteers make it a point to do so.

Urban Garden In SG
Residents during a late night food rescue. Image source: The Pride

When The Pride drops by the Green Hub on a Tuesday afternoon, the volunteers are hard at work on their latest rescue mission — a delivery of fruits and vegetables that have been rescued by the Fridge Restock Community SG.

The job isn’t as simple as placing the items in the fridge and leaving. The volunteers have to determine which rescued foodstuffs can be shared with  the community, and how they should be stored in the fridge.

The produce that isn’t quite up for human consumption isn’t wasted either — they are repurposed for compost, which goes back to the community garden.

After the fridge is restocked, there would be an update on the RC’s Facebook page and that’s when residents (often within minutes of the update) make their way down to the fridge. The items are free on a first-come-first-serve basis, although limited to claiming four items per person to encourage sharing.

Singapore's Urban Garden
Volunteers at the Green Hub with Fen (fourth from left). Image source: Bishan East Zone 1 RC

It’s yet another way for the community to come together and help each other out.

Since the Green Hub was started, it has evolved into a bustling community space that serves both the residents and the environment. It’s a spectacular amount of growth, especially given the fact that it’s not yet two years old.

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However, the RC and volunteers aren’t content to stop there.

Future plans for expansion include creating a biodiversity garden, building an irrigation system, and incorporating more solar energy to power the space. The goals that have been set out for the Green Hub are ambitious, but entirely attainable for a community that has worked together to accomplish so much.

“The sky’s the limit,” shares Fen, “we want to work towards becoming a fully self-sustainable green hub.”

If you’re interested in visiting the Green Hub, it is at the void deck under Block 112 Bishan Street 12. Alternatively, you can check out the Bishan East Zone 1 RC’s Facebook for more details, especially on food rescues!

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