My Business: Finding paradise and success in retirement

Ivy Singh: "We never started as a business"

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What makes an entrepreneur? The BBC's Ashleigh Nghiem spoke to Ivy Singh about turning her retirement plans into a successful business and setting up a farm in densely populated Singapore.

Ivy Singh and her husband Lim Ho Seng had their retirement all planned out. They, along with their friends, wanted to move to Margaret River in Western Australia and have a place with enough land to grow plants.

But the death of her best friend's husband meant those plans were shelved. Yet the setback did not deter Ms Singh from realising that dream - she just decided to do it in Singapore instead.

Start Quote

We started this as a lifestyle project. It was supposed to be a retirement project”

End Quote Ivy Singh Bollywood Veggies

Of course, luck played a part as there was some farmland available. The couple successfully tendered for a lease on a 10-acre plot and turned it into a farm called Bollywood Veggies.

The farm's produce includes aubergines, breadfruit, lady's fingers and pumpkins, as well as herbs such as dill, basil and lemongrass.

"We came and had a look and we found paradise. We started Bollywood Veggies there and then," she says.

Ms Singh says that when they visited the farm for the first time they discovered there was a small farming community still left in Singapore.

"My husband and I said, 'Let's plan to make it like Margaret River'. We actually brought the Margaret River idea over here."

The basic idea of starting the farm was to keep themselves busy in retirement.

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Ms Singh says it was never begun as a business.

"We started this as a lifestyle project. It was supposed to be a retirement project."

However, as more people found out about the farm, they started visiting - and that opened up commercial avenues for Ms Singh.

She says visitors often inquired whether the farm offered any food or drinks.

So the couple started a restaurant on the site, as well as a cookery school and a food museum.

"They wanted to learn about the plants," Ms Singh says. "We looked at all these requests from people and we added to what Bollywood Veggies started out as - a retirement home for my husband and me.

"It morphed into an education centre," she says.

Food products on sale at Bollywood veggies The farm sells its own food products
Choosing bananas

As the farm transformed from a retirement to a commercial project, Ms Singh sought new business opportunities.

A key area was growing bananas.

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We have created a paradise in what many people think is a concrete jungle. You can't put a profit value on that”

End Quote Ivy Singh Bollywood Veggies

"The Chinese don't like to grow bananas, because the banana flower, they believe, has a devil in it," she says.

Given the popularity of bananas and their use in a range of food products, she saw tremendous potential.

"We said to ourselves, 'We will be the biggest banana growers in the country'." That aim has become a reality.

The farm uses its crop to make products such as banana chips and bread.

"You name it, and we have banana recipes for it," Ms Singh says.

But she admits there was another reason for preferring bananas.

"We wanted to grow a crop that did not require too much work. We are not professional farmers," she says.

'Concrete jungle'

Ms Singh, driven by the success of the project, now wants to open a retirement home on the farm.

She says that it would be much better for elderly people in need of care to come and spend time in the natural environment of the farm rather than in a hospital.

School children at the farm The farm has also become a learning centre for visitors, including schoolchildren

"If they break a leg, they can come and spend two weeks here instead of going to a hospital, become depressed and probably die even earlier," she says.

Since its launch in 2000, the project now has annual revenues of 1m Singapore dollars ($790,000; £500,000).

Ms Singh says she does not care much about the profit, not least because she is getting to live her dream while making a difference to society.

"We have created a paradise in what many people think is a concrete jungle," she says.

"You can't put a profit value on that."

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