Kranji: Singapore's Very Own Countryside

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Kranji got its name from a tree in the area known as pokok keranji, the Malay name for the velvet tamarind. Towering at forty meters, these trees peppered the swampy marshes and lush tropical forests of Kranji in the early nineteenth century, dotting the landscape with its white flowers and blue-black, egg-shaped fruit.

 

However, the eponymous tree declined rapidly as Singapore headed into the 20th century. The previously untamed and haphazard growth of the pokok keranji made way for orderly rows of pepper, gambier and rubber. These plantations in the North echoed the structured colonial development down South by Singapore River.

 

By the 1950s, Singapore was headed for a population boom and supply would need to keep up with demand. Kranji rose to the occasion by expanding with a much wider variety of farms from vegetable and fruit to poultry and pig, sparking a thriving chapter in Singapore’s farming history. These farms flourished as they fed a rapidly growing nation and by the 1960s, 20,000 farms occupied a quarter of Singapore’s land area.

 

Kampong Kranji, 1992. Gift of Ms Tan Teng Teng. Collection of Singapore Art Museum.

 

However, this agricultural sprint did not last long. With the phasing out of pig farms in the 1980s and rapid industrialisation, only about 200 farms now remain, occupying less than one percent of Singaporean soil. Most of them are family-run farms, tucked away from the city in the Kranji countryside.

 

Agri-tainment in Full Bloom

 

Along Kranji Road and Jalan Bahar, passersby would see brown directional signs pointing the way to farms in the Kranji countryside. Brown signposts, previously reserved for tourist attractions like the Singapore Zoological Gardens and Singapore Botanical Gardens, now also highlight the lesser known countryside farms as part of Singapore’s tourism canon.

 

These signs were put up as part of Kranji Countryside Association’s (KCA) push for agri-tainment. Founded in 2005, the non-profit group was founded by members of the farming community to champion the countryside experience as a rural getaway from the heavily urbanised city.

 

With at least 40 farms welcoming the public today, agri-tainment has become a key to their sustainability. From farm stays and restaurants to experiential tours and educational workshops, these farms offer a side of Singapore that has been lost to most. They also sit amidst nature conservations and war memorials, offering a rich and poignant experience for those who want to dig deeper into Kranji’s heritage.

 

A Farm-hopper’s Guide to Kranji Countryside

 

One of the brown directional signs point to Hay Dairies, the only goat farm in Singapore. Three goat sculptures are perched on a rock at the farm’s entrance, a prelude to the 800 goats within. Since its opening in 1988, throngs of students have walked the hay-strewn corridors of the farm.  For most of them, it would be the very first time they see a live goat and many watch on with a mix of curiosity and caution as the staff go about milking the goats for fresh milk.

To the right of Hay Dairies, a very different creature await the countryside explorer. At Jurong Frog Farm, visitors are offered the chance to literally walk in the boots of frog farmers, feeding and catching frogs.

Up north, closer to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the offerings lean towards the aquatic. Swirling in a vibrant mix of colours, kois swim spiritedly across a sprawling grid of large rectangular ponds at Max Koi Farm. Just nearby, children can be seen running about open drains ‘longkang fishing’ with hand nets at Hausmann Marketing Aquarium. Meanwhile, older visitors sit leisurely by the ponds, fishing for a fresh seafood dinner.

Countryside explorers looking to indulge themselves in flora and fauna would find themselves at the southern tip of Neo Tiew Road. At Bollywood Veggies, one of the pioneers of agri-tainment in Singapore, nature lovers immerse themselves amongst more than a hundred varieties of plants on the 10-acre farm.

Just a few minutes away, a 5-hectare farm takes agri-tourism to the next level. At Gallop Kranji Farm Resort, families retreat into private villas on the farmstead. With a spa, seafood restaurant and beer garden, the farm is more than equipped for an idyllic escape. Amidst its various farms, Gallop also boasts the world’s only Swiftlet Museum.

While the countryside might not be as accessible as attractions in the city, a shuttle bus service has been ferrying the country-curious from Kranji MRT station to farms within the area since 2005.

If you time it right, you might even stumble into a Farmers’ Market. Once every three months, the KCA brings together an eclectic mix of farmers and agricultural vendors to bring locally farmed produce to people. Perhaps an indication that KCA’s efforts are paying off, the market drew a crowd of 4,000 when it first popped up in 2014 and now easily draws a crowd more than twice that. The farms themselves have also experienced personal spikes in recent years as more Singaporeans pop by for a green escape on the weekends.

Compared to the sprawling countryside of most countries, Kranji is small and often overlooked. However, within this Northwestern cluster exists a unique ecosystem that blends agriculture, history and nature in an alternative tourist experience.

Whoever said that Singapore is just a concrete jungle might not have stepped into Kranji yet.