Hotel rooftops typically conjure up images of infinity pools, sun loungers and poolside dining. Not at Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford. The hotels’ shared rooftop space — which at 450 sqm is almost as big as a basketball court — has loftier ambitions than just R&R. Launched in late 2019, the farm produces a “massive variety of salad and leafy vegetables”, fish and micro-flowers, says chef Robert Stirrup, the hotels’ Director of Culinary Operations.
It’s also the only aquaponics farm in Singapore that’s located in a hotel. According to Fairmont Singapore, aquaponics farming combines aquaculture – the rearing of fish and other aquatic life – with hydroponics, which is growing plants without soil.
How aquaponics works
In an aquaponics setup, there are two systems, comprising vegetables and fish, that co-exist and are interdependent on each other for growth.
“As the fish grow, the tank becomes filled with waste material that is converted to nitrates, an invaluable plant nutrient,” says Stirrup. “Meanwhile, the vegetables filter and clean the water for the fish, lowering the consumption of water as compared to soil gardening.”
Aquaponics farming is sustainable and pesticide-free. It also requires less space and labour than conventional farming methods using soil.
In the neat, compact facility lined with aquaponics beds and vertical towers, you’ll find romaine lettuce, nai bai, kang kong, tilapia, jade perch, and even Swiss chard and Russian kale. All this isn’t just for show. According to Stirrup, the farm produced an impressive 150kg of salad and leafy vegetables, and about 200kg of fish last year.
While the farm is not open to the public, tours – with produce sampling – are sometimes available upon request. Happily, DayAway guests can sample the aquaponic farm’s ultra-fresh, delicious produce via the Cabana & Cocktails experience or the City Wellness Retreat.
The hotels also offered their aquaponic produce in Fairmont and Swissôtel Recipe Kits, which customers could use to prepare a meal at home. These kits included easy-to-follow recipes, quality ingredients and an aquaponics-grown side salad, harvested fresh from the farm.
How the farm got started
Inspiration struck when the hotels’ Managing Director, Marcus Hanna, saw a hydroponics tower in his friend’s house. Recalls Stirrup: “Marcus came back intrigued and excited, and raised the idea with me and Ahmed Disokey (then the Area Director of Technology and Business Innovation); wondering if we could replicate this freshness in the hotels for our guests.
Quickly, the team got to work, spending almost four months intensively researching and speaking to specialists. Once a partner was identified, setup took approximately four to six weeks, with further observation to identify the produce that worked best and where to plant them to optimise harvest.
As the fish grow, the tank becomes filled with waste material that is converted to nitrates, an invaluable plant nutrient. Meanwhile, the vegetables filter and clean the water for the fish, lowering the consumption of water as compared to soil gardening.”
Chef Robert Stirrup, Director of Culinary Operations at Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford
A Better Way To Farm
Here’s how the aquaponics farm at Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford
contributes to a greener planet:
A Work In Progress
Maintaining an aquaponics farm is a constant work in progress, says Stirrup. “We are constantly studying, experimenting with new crops and making adjustments depending on climate and produce performance. We also have to keep in mind what supplies our restaurants and events need,” he says.
Aquaponics farming can also be fraught with natural challenges, like torrential downpours, which can devastate crops. Singapore’s climate and high humidity torpedoed the team’s efforts to grow white strawberries. And despite being many floors up, the farm still has to contend with ever-present pest problems. Fortunately, says Stirrup, the Singapore Food Agency has been a great help, offering endless advice and ideas.
More recently, the pandemic caused multiple rounds of closures of the hotel’s food and beverage outlets. As Covid-19 infections peaked, the team had to reduce some of the planting and also stopped all external contractors who had been coming in to work at the farm.
“We had to adopt a very hands-on approach and approach the situation day by day,” says Stirrup.
Despite the challenges, says Stirrup, one payoff from the farm that’s never changed is flavour. Aquaponics-grown produce is fresher and generally thought to taste better because it hasn’t been treated with any chemicals or growth enhancers. As a chef, Stirrup says it’s extraordinarily satisfying to be so deeply involved in the plants and fish his team will eventually use in their dishes. “We truly enjoy continuously experimenting with the crops, fine-tuning them based on what grows well and what ingredients we need to use frequently,” he says.
The aquaponics farm is certainly a timely addition too. Demand has grown considerably for “clean”, sustainable dining. And in a time of global supply change disruptions, the pandemic has made clear the importance of food security and self-sufficiency. The farm also aligns with Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal, in which the nation aspires to produce 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.
The farm’s success has also generated considerable interest from other hotels and companies in Singapore. This fits into the hotels’ long-term objective towards spreading the word about aquaponics, says Stirrup. “We hope to inspire more like-minded groups to make a difference for a greater, greener good.”
Enjoy a delicious two-course “Farm to Pool” Aquaponics set lunch featuring fresh produce from Fairmont Singapore’s rooftop aquaponics farm, with our City Wellness Retreat, which also offers three-hours’ access to Fairmont Singapore’s pools, fitness centre and spa.
Or try our Cabana & Cocktails experience. This includes three hours’ use of a poolside cabana, pool, fitness centre and spa wet facility access, a welcome drink and a two-course Aquaponics set lunch (supplementary $45nett per person).