FIELDTESTED | Olivia Choong

Gardener, beekeeper, and writer – Olivia Choong finds her passion in uncovering the beauty and impact of green living. Aligned with a shared intention of environmental consciousness, we wanted to celebrate our range of natural dye tops by featuring Olivia and her growing garden. Rooted in self sufficiency and sustainability, she shares about how these values guide her journey and relationship with gardening.

What inspired the beginnings of The Tender Gardener? What are some big lessons you’ve learned as part of your journey?

When I started visiting Byron Bay in late 2012, I developed an interest in growing vegetables. It began with dabbling, and then it became an obsession with the concept of self sufficiency. I committed to the belief that one day in the near future, I would live off the land and I wanted to learn how to grow all my own food. The climate was perfect for it and I experimented for a while before deciding to create a blog about my journey to self sufficiency, starting with growing edible plants. Along the way I took courses such as natural home building using strawbale and cob, woodworking, beekeeping, and permaculture, I also bought and read lots of books on food growing and watched documentaries and videos related to growing food and living off grid.

The more I learned, the more I realised how disconnected most city dwellers are to nature and decided that my goal for my blog and life at this stage would be to connect people to nature, prior to that my goal was only to raise awareness of environmental issues. However, after gaining an epiphany that many social, economic and environmental issues stem from a disconnection to ourselves, which in turn leads to a disconnection to others and nature, I felt it was important to connect people to plants, with the hope that through experiencing mindfulness through gardening and urban farming, that they would begin caring for the environment.

As someone who feels a draw towards the allure and nature of the countryside, what is it like to live in the city?

I find city living to be quite jarring after spending time in a quiet, subtropical rainforest. I used to stay for 1 – 2 months at a time and be used to almost complete silence at night, except for the odd animal on the cabin roof, occasional cries from night creatures, sometimes the grunting of koalas. After my first long stay I began noticing how noisy Singapore is, and realised how sensitive to sound I had become. The city is certainly more crowded, with more cars and industrial operations so air pollution is also more apparent. The pace is certainly very different, so I remind myself it’s okay to take it easy once in a while and that slow living is a good thing. I still live with my parents, who have a garden that I can use for growing various plants, beekeeping and chicken rearing, and this is an experience I am grateful for every day.

Gardener, writer, PR consultant, and you’ve recently added beekeeper to your growing list – what’s next?

Hopefully tiny home builder! I’ve been looking for an affordable course in Australia where I can learn to build a tiny house with sustainable materials. The other thing I have been working on for a while is a children’s book on marine waste, and I’m just short of a few illustrations. My last illustrator bailed on me at the last minute and I’m looking for someone to complete the book!

Life lessons learned from gardening?

Everything will happen in its own time and I need to be patient and nurture through observation and trial and error, also, careful planning is important when it comes to growing my own food, or I will encounter periods of either glut or scarcity instead of a constant supply of vegetables – this is also true when it comes to having an organised work schedule. Lastly, this might sound cliche but what you reap is definitely what you sow; the more care I show my plants, the more productive it is.

What’s your favourite thing to grow?

Right now, ginger! It’s so fragrant and because it grows below the ground for around 9 months, I don’t fully know how much I’m harvesting and it’s a bit of a surprise when I dig up a plant. I feel the same excitement when it comes to unearthing potatoes and taro. I always make sure to grow bittergourd, Thai eggplants and ginger.

#ChangeBeyondTextiles is…

Conscious consumption. We need to look at our purchasing habits and honestly ask ourselves if we even need that article of clothing, if it will last for decades, and if it is environmentally sustainable and ethically made.

What is one thing you stand for and believe in, and why?

I stand for speaking our minds honestly, but with the intention to share our true feelings without malice. I feel that many people fear speaking out for themselves and others, which can result in instances of social and environmental injustice, oppression, and emotional abuse not being addressed. Also, I feel that many are afraid to express what they want in life because for so long they have felt that their views or interests are not important. I believe that being more vocal and open to discussion and collaboration helps build a society that is more inclusive and happy. Through sharing their opinions, people can also help shape the community or country they live within. One thing I am sad about is the gradual loss of natural green spaces in Singapore, and I wish that more people would speak out against it through writing to forum pages, government agencies or their Member of Parliament.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as someone who has made a positive difference to people I’ve interacted with. I’ve been emotionally touched by many people in my life and I hope I can do that for others too. We never know how much our actions, whether just a smile or greeting, can mean to others and impact their day.

We are inspired by Olivia’s grounded determination in self sufficiency and sustainabilityand are proud to have her as Fieldtesters, a group of inspiring individuals that test MATTER products in their everyday journeys of passion, to help us improve durability and design. Olivia is wearing our natural dye tops in Size 1.