In honour of International Women’s Day this month (8 March), we’re shining the spotlight on female entrepreneurs who are making a mark on the food scene here in Singapore and beyond. From healthy home delivery options and cookbooks for charity to sustainable agriculture, see how these women are getting involved!
Who she is: Cookbook author and founder of popular cooking kit business Indian Spicebox (indian-spicebox.com), which helps feed impoverished children in India.
Why she’s awesome: Namita’s commitment to inspiring healthier eating is, of course, admirable. But the fact that she has also helped feed tens of thousands of hungry bellies though her business takes it to the next level. (Also impressive is the fact that she manages her one-woman-business while juggling two little ones at home!)
Her story: Namita boldly traded in her flourishing creative digital marketing career to launch her own meaningful start-up. Not only did she want to disprove common misconceptions surrounding Indian food – that it’s unhealthy, heavy, overly spicy and too complicated to attempt at home – and empower families to cook with healthier, organic ingredients, but she also wanted to feed hungry bellies.
So, in 2014, Namita introduced the Spicebox kit, which includes a cookbook with easy-to-follow recipes and a beautiful tin with nine organic spices, all sourced from small farms in India. Since its launch, proceeds from the sale of each Spicebox ($95) have been used to feed children in India, with over 100,000 meals served to date.
“I wanted to design a life for myself where I could be an involved and present mother while also creating something meaningful for others,” she says. “Indian Spicebox began as an idea in my head in 2004 when I lived in New York and, a decade later, it was born as a business. It wasn’t an easy transition but I’m so grateful that I was able to let my dream build and bubble away until I could take and mould it into what it is today!”
Now working with India-based charity partner Annamrita (annamrita.org), Namita has upped her goals. She has her sights set on funding one million hot meals by 2025. Also, she has just expanded her offerings to include a blend collection and mini sampler kit; proceeds are going to the same cause.
Who she is: Founder and Director of Sasha’s Fine Foods (sashasfinefoods.com), a go-to online grocer for food-conscious shoppers who want fully traceable, ethically sourced fish, meat, plant-based products, ready-made meals, healthy snacks and more delivered to their doorsteps.
Why she’s awesome: Her uncompromising staunchness to quality, conscious eating, transparency and provenance made her a trailblazer in Singapore’s sustainability space, not to mention the local grocery scene. She’s not just steadfast on supporting the “small guys” – local farmers trying to farm ethically – but also on helping consumers make better and informed choices about the food they’re buying.
Her story: A lawyer by profession but a foodie at heart, Sasha is passionate about sourcing only the finest produce and started to import lamb from New Zealand for her family when she moved to Singapore 12 years ago.
When friends started adding requests, Sasha saw a prime opportunity to bring together her passion for cooking and eating with the growing demand for “cleaner” food in Singapore. In 2011, she set up an online shop that gave consumers a real choice in how they bought their weekly supplies of meat – a first in the local market at the time.
Fast forward, and the mother-of-three has now got a thriving e-commerce business with an ever-expanding product range. The online shop carries a range of sustainably sourced meat and seafood, including local, hormonefree chicken, fresh salmon from New Zealand, grass-fed beef from Australia and New Zealand, and free-range pork from England, among other staples – all painstakingly sourced by Sasha. In fact, she has personally met and vetted each and every supplier. Customers can even read about these suppliers on the website under the dedicated “Meet Our Producers” section.
“Food is deeply personal and hands-on for me,” she says. “Many retailers buy from sales reps or websites, which, in my view, is never the best strategy. I think if you’re serious about food, it’s imperative to go behind the scenes and see first-hand exactly how food is raised. It’s the most important part of my job and the only way I can have complete confidence in what I’m selling.”
On farm visits, Sasha gets to talk directly to vets and caretakers, allowing her to learn about the welfare, feed and environmental aspects of production. “You gain a deep understanding of the produce when you walk the farms or spend a day out on a boat, and I feel that’s a real differentiator from others in the market,” she says.
Who she is: Founder of The Farmers (thefarmers.sg), an urban agriculture business that promotes sustainable living, cultural heritage and local ecology through food, education and events.
Why she’s awesome: She traded the fashion scene for a return to her roots – literally and figuratively. Through her small business, she and her husband Scott champion urban agriculture, and aim to inspire a more conscious community and planet.
Her story: “Scott and I had both been at our respective jobs for just over three years when we decided that we wanted some change. I was working in fast fashion and struggling to connect with the values of the industry, so couldn’t see myself there long term,” says Justine. So, they left their jobs and went travelling around Europe and North and South America, where they came across loads of edible gardens at homestays. Inspired, they felt it was their mission to encourage growing and eating both locally and seasonally back in Singapore.
“Initially, we didn’t know that we would get into urban agriculture, but the trip gave us an opportunity to seek out what we were interested in and try out different ways and paces of living,” says Justine. “It made us realise that locally grown produce tastes so good, is loaded with nutrients and is gentler on our planet! And, in most places we visited, people ate locally and seasonally, unlike us in Singapore where we get strawberries and pumpkins all year round.”
“We realised three important things,” she says. “There is a problem with our current food system, being outdoors made us feel really good, and we wanted to live simply.” To address these, Justine and Scott launched The Farmers, which is run out of their front yard in Yio Chu Kang. There, they grow salad greens, cabbage, tomatoes and a range of native herbs that are sold at local markets and through their website.
“It’s getting increasingly difficult to find these local herbs in the supermarkets nowadays, as people move towards non-native dishes and imported ingredients. As a result, we tend to forget about them and a lot of the younger generation aren’t even aware of them. It’s a pity, because these herbs are part of our heritage! And they’re full of medicinal benefits too.”
Additionally, Justine and Scott conduct workshops two to three times a month (check their Instagram page @thefarmers.sg for updates), teaching participants how to grow crops in a limited space, how to use them as ingredients in the kitchen, and the advantages of urban farming in general.
“There are so many benefits of urban farming, but I think the most significant is how it brings food production closer to people. It increases the community’s access to fresh produce that hasn’t been flown or trucked over thousands of miles, that hasn’t been treated with chemicals and preservatives to help it survive that long journey,” says Justine. “It also provides an opportunity for people to stay active and reconnect with nature.”
Additionally, she says the shift to urban environments has led to a total detachment between provenance and point of consumption.
“With this disconnect has come a lack of awareness and interest in how our food is grown, where it’s grown, and by whom. We hope to put a face to our food, but more than that, challenge the notion of what a farmer looks like.”