27 Feb-5 Mar 2015 #747

From Sanga to Singapore

A Singaporean set up a business to export the farm’s vegetables to her home country
Cynthia Choo

When German publisher Hans Hoefer decided to pursue his interest in organic greens by buying a farm in Kavre in 1993, he ended up growing more vegetables than he could ever eat.

His wife – Cynthia Wee Hoefer (pictured) however had a plan and set up a business to export the farm’s vegetables to her home country, Singapore.

Organic Himalaya was born. Fast forward 21 years and more than 200 kg of organic salad vegetables and jams are air freighted from Sanga to Singapore every week. The vegetables are hand-packed as per order and delivered to Singaporean families and kitchens that wait eagerly for their weekly supply of organic Nepali greens.

“Although the farm was thrown to me, I enjoy running it as a business,” said Cynthia who oversees the entire production process single-handedly.

The self-taught businesswoman swiftly established a marketing arm for the business by spreading the benefits of the healthy greens through word of mouth and social media, amassing close to 1,700 people on her mailing list since Organic Himalaya first started.

She attributes the success of her venture to the allure of the Himalayan brand. “When I tell people that the greens are from Nepal, they immediately associate it with the purity and freshness of the Himalaya,” she said.

Employing and training local farmers was also a good decision, as it gave the brand a face. “My customers seem to like it when they know local Nepali farmers are the ones growing the vegetables.”

Beans, lentils and salad greens are the best sellers, says Cynthia. She is also trying to introduce green garlic, yacon and leek — vegetables not commonly found in Singapore.

Real Food, a Singaporean café chain that imports Organic Himalaya Greens, attested to the quality of Nepali greens. “One main item we import is lentils. We use it to make our lentil soup which is amazing,” said Jee Yang, co-founder of Real Food.

Besides supplying produce to individuals and restaurants directly, Cynthia also sells the farm’s produce in a weekend farmers market called Loewen Gardens in Singapore.

However, everything was not always smooth sailing. The seasoned traveller had once thought of ending the business venture when her wanderlust struck. “Having a booth at the farmers market is a commitment and it doesn’t allow me to take any weekends off,” she said.

Her dilemma was also between growing the business and keeping it a boutique venture.

“There are times when a certain vegetable is not in season and we cannot deliver as promised. But as a small business, customers are understanding because we interact with them personally,” said Cynthia.

This personal touch to her business has also made her grow a fond attachment to the farmers and customers, which was why she ultimately continued the business.

“Whenever I consider closing shop, I think about the farmers losing their jobs, and disappointing my customers,” she said.

The satisfaction she gets from personal interactions with her customers is what keeps her going. The 63-year-old said: “I love it when they tell me how much they loved the fresh vegetables or give me feedback to improve my service.”

Jee Yang said that Real Food Singapore will continue to order supplies from Cynthia, because they prefer small and ethical suppliers.

Cynthia said: “By remaining small, I’m confident of the products that we produce because I know the customers, the workers, and most importantly, I know the farm.”

Read also:

Turning Singapore into Nepal

Seeing Green

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