Joe and I went for a late dinner today at a nearby HDB’s hawker center. While we strolled there, a question popped into my head.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a home that pays for itself?”

He knew what I meant: no electricity or water bills.

And my head started whirring with ideas, dreams, ideals, why-nots.

I guessed I was inspired by a video example I watched recently. (The last time I wrote about our ideal green home was here.) Amory Lovins lives in this beautiful home, with every part built to fulfill more than one function.

That struck a chord in me; it’s always a thrill to be able to do things that go the extra mile.

My dad-in-law recently changed the old rickety air conditioners at home to brand new ones. Instead of sputtering warm air despite low temperature settings, we now feel chilly at 26 degrees celsius on the remote control. That’s not all – we’re saving at least $50 a month on electricity bills.

We’ve also changed the water heater to an automatic one. This means the water heats up whilst someone takes a warm shower. Our old water heater had this big-sized tank that loomed above our shower head. It always took at least half hour for the water to heat up, yet never had enough warm water for everyone. Electricity was inevitably wasted whenever someone turned on the heater switch and forgot all about it.

I’ve also started to cook more frequently for my always-hungry husband (beef stew anyone?), and can’t help but to feel wasteful when I throw considerably large amounts of raw kitchen scraps into the bin.

During heavy rains, I do wonder about all that water I could collect and use to wash the toilets, clean muddy shoes, make garlic fire sprays, water potted plants, flush the corridor, wash down a car, moisten the worm bin, and fill up lots of water balloons for fun.

Is there a way for HDB residents like myself to harvest heavy downpours without risking mosquito-breeding? Oh what a thrill just thinking about that! Imagine 10 large empty pails placed under a heavy downpour. That’s a lot of free water! Would places like zoos and bird parks use that water to fill up their mist fans? Or how about water playgrounds that eventually need a complete change of water every now and then? (Children do drool and pee…)

Can HDB or high-rise buildings be built in such a way that harvests wind? Can there be angles, tunnels, holes etc in buildings that encourage never-ending wind flow, so my clothes can dry completely within a few hours?

What if life at home is so naturally cool and breezy that aircon can be a thing of a past – especially for people who would like to save money for more important things? (Our first wedding anniversary is just around the corner.)

And oh! What if… Just what if… I can grow and harvest my own food just steps away from my door, even if I were to live on the 25th floor? Can a building of similar height and form be built (and structurally joined) to mine, so I may just grow, eat, and sell my own organic food from the comfort of my own home?

I think it’s cool to be a modern-day urban farmer; a savvy, no-sweat, always-wirelessly-connected-to-life-and-technology kind of urban farmer. And I get to choose whether to wear a pretty straw hat or not – just for the kick of it, and not because of sun bearing down on my shoulders.

And my vegetables will always grow at an alarmingly fast rate because I have energy-saving UV light that gives all-important light to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (Sunlight can be annoyingly unpredictable in tropical conditions. I know this because I’ve been trying to dry my laundry.) With this, my vegetables do not see the (natural) light of day, simply because they don’t need to.

I’ll grow my own Kang Kong (because I love them), BIG LEAFY xiao bai cai, lettuces, lady fingers, french beans, spinach, tomatoes, long beans, lime, pandan leaves, chilli padi etc. You name it, you grow it!

<entering dream zone>

The government buys my vegetables and puts them front and center in NTUC because of local pride. And I check the price tags – they are obviously so much cheaper than imported goods. They are also healthier, bigger, tastier, fresher. Why? Because the time taken to pluck my vegetables and deliver them by electric van is always less than an hour. (The nearest NTUC is only 5 minutes away by foot.)

Oops, give me a moment, a neighbour’s knocking on my door.

“Sarah, I need help with my plants. I have to travel over the weekend.”

“No problem!” I say. Besides, it’s my responsibility because I’m appointed as overseer for this block of apartments. I help to ensure everyone’s doing great – especially for the new neighbours. Some people call me ‘mayor Sarah’. So pai seh.

And this neighbour (her name is Grace) only stays a few floors above – the 30th floor to be exact. She’s a semi-housewife + urban farmer like myself. And she has the same exact layout as my HDB farm, just growing different vegetables to suit her husband’s liking for sweet potatoes. So I just take the lift up and press the pin number to her backyard farm. For security issues, I remind her to change her pin every now and then.

What do I mean by semi-houswife + urban farmer? Good question. Each family’s farm only requires up to 2 hours of maintenance (or harvesting) per week. Grace likes to use the rest of her time to shop or cook for her hubby who works full-time elsewhere. For me, whenever I have free time, I like to read or chat in my farm. It’s always very cooling, breezy and sweet-smelling in there. (I also installed some speakers playing jazz tunes so I can have a spa-like environment whenever I enter. Heh.)

By the way, would you like to join my residents for a party at the void deck this evening at 7pm? Our block won the award for growing the most food (by weight and variety) three times in a row. It’s by no accident; a good and caring HDB block culture really goes a long way, and I firmly believe that it always starts with the ‘mayors’.

As a gesture of encouragement and goodwill, we’ll also be contributing half of our reward money to residents in the next block. They are newcomers to this restful and highly rewarding way of life, and we believe the money will enable them to get a wide variety of seedlings for their farming and dining pleasure.

As you can see, the blocks are always kept clean, and there’s always more than enough food for everyone – thanks to the sensible prior floorplanning before these buildings became a reality. We do have excess food leftover every month (even after selling to the government), so we donate much of our food to the nearest hospitals, elderly homes, orphanages and the like.

I see that you’re still scratching your head about the buildings’ layout and how to make sense of it.

Ok where you are standing right now is a ‘normal’ HDB building; we are now in the middle of my living room located on the 25th floor. Walk with me to my kitchen. See this door at the end? Open it.

See this short link bridge? Yes just 5 short steps away and voila – you’ll be standing in my backyard farm.

So walk with me across this little bridge to enter my farm. We have now transitted from a ‘normal’ HDB building to a ‘special’ HDB building. This HDB building is ‘special’ because its entire block contains a farm on each floor. Each farm belongs to the resident living on the same floor in the opposite ‘normal’ HDB building.

You’re finally nodding your head in understanding now eh? 😉

The technology we’re using? Aquaponics and Hydroponics. No soil needed. Just light-running water in light-weight tubes of relevant sizes, depending on the types of vegetables you wish to grow. Residents who don’t like to handle fish simply grow vegetables via Hydroponics. But I prefer Aquaponics because I get better earnings when I sell fresh fish like red Tilapia. I also don’t need to get fertilizers because fish waste is a great source of natural fertilizers for vegetables. (Imagine trees along riverbeds, and how they always grow best.)

I encourage you to check out the fish at the NTUC nearby. They’re from my farm, along with a couple of other neighbours living near the ground floor. Our fish is so fresh that their eyes are clearer than The New iPad. Seriously! And my neighbours and I always like to drink kopi together and laugh about how tricky it is to harvest the fish sometimes. The fish can be quite feisty. Yet we all know this secret: the feistier, the yummier!

Ok I gotta go. The next batch of food has to be sold and delivered out within the next hour. I’ve to be there when the electric van comes.

Oh yes, feel free to join us at our ‘HDB Aquaponics Beginners Class’ at 5pm in the basement level. It’s also like a welcome tea party for the new neighbours moving in next block. We are excited to play first-time hosts to them.

If you’re attending, you are more than welcome to bring your press! This could be helpful as I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to answer queries on our Facebook page. Questions and comments are coming in from all over the world.

Sorry, a moment please as I take this call.

(a few minutes later)

My husband says there will be sashimi and vegetable salads to takeaway after the class. He’s now slicing fresh salmon on the 50th floor with a group of neighbourhood boys who just came back from school. Apparently they will be harvesting some fish together for a rooftop barbecue. I can’t begin to describe to you how ah-may-zing the fish tastes when you simply wrap it in foil and toss it over charcoal fire. Mmmm!

Ok I gotta go, thanks for coming by. Catch you later!

<staying in dream zone, and believing it will be a reality in time to come>

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