“Everything had to be traceable, affordable and good for the planet.”
If you’ve boarded the organic food express, you probably already know (and love) Claire Chabrieres and her social enterprise ShiokFarm. A unique subscription service, ShiokFarm delivers weekly bags (reusable, of course) of affordable organic produce right to your doorstep. We chat with Claire, a mum of three, to find out how she single-handedly made eating organic a more affordable, accessible and community-centric lifestyle choice.
Originally from France, Claire and her husband moved to Singapore in 2010 after living in China for a decade. She founded this social enterprise back in 2015 and has been at the forefront of the clean eating movement since.
What sowed the idea of ShiokFarm in your mind?
When my first child was three, feeding him one organic pear cost us $6. I have a pear tree in my home in France and I know it doesn’t cost that much. Fast forward a few months and I realised I was pregnant with twins. Within 10 minutes of the doctor telling me I was expecting twins, I thought, $18! We, like most people, cannot afford $18 for one dessert for our three kids.
It was a stressful pregnancy and I was put on chair rest. I thought thinking and doing something positive would be a good way to distract my mind. I started thinking of how can I help myself and other people who want to feed their kids clean food.
I corporated the company two weeks before giving birth… which wasn’t the best timing *laughs*. We started with 20 families in December 2015 and by February 2016 we had 50 – 60 people on the waiting list. A year later we had over 160 people on the waiting list.
What sets ShiokFarm apart?
It was important to me that everything had to be traceable, affordable and good for the planet. Like, if you’re eating organic, you can’t ship your organic produce from South Africa… that doesn’t make sense. You have to go local.
Say green beans, for instance. The French ones are thin while Malaysian ones are thicker and longer but it’s okay. Adapt to where you are; it’s better for your health. We control the sourcing from A to Z. For my business trips, I don’t go to fancy hotels but I go to farms in Southeast Asia. The farmers are passionate about what they do. You need to be passionate because it takes a lot of time to grow vegetables.
Tell us more about your farm business trips.
Honestly, they are my favourite business trips ever. I remember the first time I visited, I went in flip flops and shorts. Not a good idea *laughs*. You need to wear big shoes and pants, otherwise you’re eaten up alive, especially for organic farms as they don’t spray.
Checking to see if something is truly organic is difficult and expensive. For fruits or veggies to be organic, the soil has to be free from fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. I test the soil myself. Nitrates are easier to check for, but fertilizers are hard. To test one carrot, it takes $1,000, which is not possible. Instead, I check the soil for bugs and watch for bugs flying around. I even give the soil a bit of a dig to check if it’s alive. When it’s alive, I know it’s clean. I also look at seeds the farmers are using and if they are bright blue or bright pink that means they not organic.
Walk us through your vision for ShiokFarm.
When I was a child, we had meat three times a week. But now, people want meat every day. It’s not sustainable. We consume on-demand. You go to the supermarket and you’ll have strawberries 365 days a year. But that comes at a cost.
There’s wastage at every stage: farmers, middlemen or exporters, importers and finally, supermarkets. At the supermarket, they want everything to look perfect or else it’s thrown into the bin. So even before it reaches the consumer, 40% of the food that’s grown goes into the trash! And that’s because of the way we consume.
At ShiokFarm, I try to create bags that match different needs. We work with Southeast Asian and some Australian farms, and we agree on what they will grow and ultimately, we help save on 40% food waste. We want to help you reduce your meat consumption from once or twice a day to three times a week. Consumers have a massive responsibility. We need to start in your house by consuming in a more sustainable way.
How does it all work?
I thought I was selling organic vegetables but honestly, it’s all about the logistics. We ask our members to commit to us for six months. In turn, we make a commitment to our farms for two years. The farms grow what we plan and then the sun or the rain get involved. Depending on the weather, everything changes *chuckles*. We try to juggle and work around it. The produce (almost two tonnes of it) arrives at our Singapore warehouse every Tuesday, and we make our weekly bags by 2 pm. Our members subscribe to different kinds of bags – 5kg, 7kg, 3kg premium and 6kg paleo – depending on their needs and the size of their families.
Then, it’s time to deliver. We have a home and office delivery service. Plus, on Wednesday, we have pick-up point deliveries and those are really magical. Some of our kind members voluntarily open their house for two hours to allow others in the community to come collect their bags. At its heart, ShiokFarm is about the community. This pick-up point delivery is very important to me as it forces people to talk to their neighbours.
We even have a WhatsApp group where our members trade and exchange produce that they don’t prefer. If someone doesn’t like kale, they trade it with someone else who does. Every week we share the contents of the bags along with a suggested training menu. We work with a Japanese nutritionist who puts together a menu and shares recipes so that our members can get inspired.
There’s no wastage. When our members go on holidays, they either share their boxes with their friends or donate it to The Singapore Cheshire Home. We do the same with our excess produce.
Was it a challenge to set up a business in Singapore?
Oh no, it’s very easy to be an entrepreneur in Singapore. Technically, everything is very quick. In Singapore, the government is extremely supportive. The main challenge is that you don’t dare. Your biggest obstacle is not the 2,000 reasons you think are holding you back… but it’s you. You are your own biggest obstacle. Once you realise that and overcome the fear, it’s easy.
Apart from helming a thoughtful social enterprise, what else do you do to be a more sustainable global citizen?
I have my gardening project. I tried growing vegetables and failed miserably so now I’m growing fruits like avocados, pineapples and rambutans. I’m trying to go zero-plastic at home and work. All our bags in ShiokFarm are zero plastic except for berries, as it’s hard with them. I’m water conscious and try to teach my children the same. My kids and I also pick up trash on the street. When my kids are 18 years old and if they know how to grow their own food and speak three languages (English, Japanese and French)… my job is done.
ShiokFarm, order online.