This Yale-NUS Grad Rejected a Job at an MNC to Be a Farmer

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Kimberly Hoong, 24, Urban Farmer

You don’t meet a farmer every day in Singapore, let alone one in her twenties. But Kimberly, 24, chose a career in urban farming to do her part in pushing for environmental sustainability.

The Environmental Studies graduate from Yale-NUS rejected a job in a sustainability department at a multinational company to do this. “Right now, I would prefer to do things that are more impactful and can create change,” she says. “I don’t just want to talk about it or show people. I want to actually change things myself too.”

Her passion for nature started when she was young. “It came about precisely because I’ve been living in urban cities. I lived in Shanghai for about six to seven years of my life and then the rest of the time, I was in Singapore. These two cities are so densely populated and full of skyscrapers. I think a lot of people would find that glamorous but I felt a bit stifled. I always preferred being outdoors and in nature. Whenever I’m outdoors, I feel a lot more at peace and calm, and a lot more alive compared to being in the urban environment.”

She turned down an Ivy League exchange programme for the Himalayas

To realise her dream, she gave up the chance to go to Yale and other Ivy League universities to study in the Himalayas for five months. “Being able to learn experientially outdoors, out of the classroom, is a much more unique opportunity. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing that you’re not going to be able to get back if you pass up on it.”

She adds, “I feel that if I really wanted to pursue a degree at an Ivy League school or the more prestigious universities, I could do my Masters or I could try to earn enough money for summer school or graduate school.”

Her decision didn’t sit that well with her parents, so it took a bit of convincing for them to agree—the same way she had to convince them about her choice to pursue Environmental Studies and become an urban farmer. Among other things, she says they were worried about her future career options should she decide to give up urban farming, the uncertainty surrounding the unconventional job, and whether she could be financially independent.

“They weren’t really sure if I could earn enough to one day be financially independent and secure. I’m just going to put it out there that being a farmer, I don’t earn as much as some other people, compared to bankers, consultants and sales people. But I think if you work hard, save hard and live simply, it’s still manageable.”

Kimberly admitted that she used to worry a lot about whether she’d be able to afford her own house, whether she can start a family or if she’s a burden to her parents (“On some of my very low days, I do compare my paycheck to my friends’ paychecks.”), but she would take a step back to think about the larger picture: how the world is dying.

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Cotton jacket, H&M. Tulle dress, N°21 at Yoox. Denim jeans, Bimba Y Lola. Patent leather boots, Charles & Keith.

Why she does what she does: The Earth might be uninhabitable in 20 years

“If you’ve read the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the state of the Earth, it says we only have about a decade or two left before the Earth is destroyed past the point of no return—to the point where the Earth becomes uninhabitable. So if the Earth is going to be uninhabitable in 20 years, and there’s going to be a huge biological collapse to the point where it affects the human population and how we live and survive, why do I need to worry so much about this material stuff?”

As an urban farmer, Kimberly doesn’t only grow food in a garden to sell—the company she works for, Edible Garden City, also builds and designs edible gardens and urban farms for others, such as Funan Mall, Marina Bay Sands and restaurants such as The Summerhouse and Open Farm Community. It also conducts workshops, tours and talks to educate the public and raise awareness.

To supplement her income and support her family, she tutors primary school kids. She says she likes interacting with kids and hopes that through tutoring, she can nurture the next generation and inspire them to do better for society. “I’ve always believed that if you want to change the world, if you want the society and the world to move towards a more sustainable way of living and to be more environmentally friendly, you need to start doing it from young. There needs to be a shift in culture and mindset. That doesn’t happen overnight. It has to happen over several years, a generation or two.”

She admits that she’s privileged enough to be able to do this because she lives with her parents so she doesn’t have to pay rent, and that she and her parents are healthy. “All of this enabled me to do something more for others.”

She adds, “I feel like society right now is a lot about earning enough for yourself and maybe for your immediate family. But if you and your family are financially comfortable, why do you need more money when you can use it to help others? Because there are so many people out there who are suffering, and it’s not because they’re not working hard enough. I’m pretty sure there are many people out there who are trying to work even harder than I am and it just so happens that the system we’re living in right now is broken and flawed, so they’re just in a disadvantaged position.”

 

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She is not too concerned about naysayers and keyboard warriors

While she hasn’t had people mocking her career choice face-to-face, she says strangers on Facebook have been negative and sceptical about her career choice. “I see a lot of comments saying, ‘Why did you have to spend all your parents’ money on university and college if you’re just going to be a farmer?’ Or ‘Wait until your parents kick you out of your house and then you know how tough it is out there.’”

But she doesn’t let the comments bring her down. “As long as I’m confident in what I’m doing and I know that what I’m doing is not immoral or hurting anyone else, I have a clear conscience. I think everyone just lives their own lives and everyone has an eventual goal in life they want to get to. It’s just about how you get there, and as long as I’m getting there, I’m OK. Because if I get too caught up in these negative comments, it’s not going to help me.”

She clarifies, “I do like constructive criticism so if anyone has any feedback for me or something constructive to say, I take it because it helps me grow. But if the comments are not constructive and they are just sour, bitter and negative, I’m just going to brush it off and move on with what I can improve on myself.”

Despite the negativity, what keeps her going is knowing that what she does is creating a positive change. “In general, I’m just optimistic. [My friends and I often say environmental issues and climate change] are very depressing things to think about, and it takes a lot of optimism and determination to want to keep on fighting for environmental sustainability, and fighting climate change and climate crisis. I would say that a lot of us are optimists. We hope that there will be a better world one day.”

While she doesn’t see herself as an urban farmer for the rest of her life, she reckons her career will be “somehow or one way always be about sustainable development and environmental sustainability”.

When asked where she saw herself in five years, Kimberly brimmed with hope. “In five years’ time, I hope that I’m still as hopeful as I am today. And I hope that I still have that same kind of energy and optimism I have today, and that it can inspire others to do the same and pursue things they’re passionate about that they otherwise might be afraid to pursue.”

CLEO Change Makers 2019

Read more about the CLEO Change Makers here. For more career advice, money tips, and general guides to adulting, check out our Change Makers digital issue.

 

Photography: Brendan Zhang
Styling: Cheryl Chan
Hair and makeup: 
Zoel Tee
Styling Assistant: Melissa Lee

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