Set in the remote, opposite end of Singapore, it takes 2.5 hours of commute if I was travelling from home. However, there is no reason to complain as the foreign workers on the farm wakes up diligently at 6 am every single day to wash and feed the frogs. Who knew running a farm could be this busy? Every single person on deck is responsible in ensuring that the farm runs smoothly. During my stay, I saw first-hand how the staff covered one another’s role in the event of someone being unable to turn up for work and how they selflessly stayed beyond their working hours to complete one another’s load. My supervising mentor, Chelsea Wan, the director of JFF, was always quick to emphasise the importance of taking ownership in everything that we do. It could be customer support or even basic cleanliness, it doesn’t matter. Everyone was dependant on each other and it was the only way a small company like JFF could survive which I thought was a beautiful lesson.
Once, I had the opportunity to debone the frogs (separating meat from the bones) at the processing plant and that took me an entire day. It left me with sores all over and I crashed asleep in exhaustion upon reaching home. It made me reflect however. Not all jobs are pleasant. Though I was silently complaining of the stench and back-breaking work, at the end of the day, someone still must do the work. It was just a day for me so imagine the foreign workers who had been deboning for years and yet they were thrilled when given a contract extension. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have completed deboning without Chelsea’s help. Yes, you’re right, the director herself got her hands dirty. In fact, she had experience doing everything on the farm from retail to slaughtering the frogs and by doing so, she understood how each of her workers felt. She knew their limits and potential and thus, was able to empathise with the people under her which I thought is a trait every leader should have.
Initially, I was tasked to embark on a project to develop a new farm activity to solve the low visitation time spent by walk-in customers. While researching, I was also being trained to conduct tours and handle the retail management of the shop there. The two staffs there, Zheng Xun and Jackson, offered an abundance of tips in public speaking and crowd management which I find valuable in a teacher’s line of work. Most of the tours were conducted for preschool children and primary level students which meant that we needed to cater to their short attention span and boisterous behaviour. I started with conducting parts of the tour and by the end of my short stint there, I successfully conducted a full tour for an adventure camp group. Although the tour content was heavy, it wasn’t a problem for me but rather the delivery and intonation that I had to work hard to improve on since these were essential to capture their attention and interest. I overcame my phobia of touching frogs (yes, and I still chose JFF) during my first ever tour to which I put up a brave front and held these amphibians. Although I mishandled the frogs then and they started struggling, I was truly relieved that I was over the irrational fear.
The retail management of The Royal Frog Shop have been quite an experience. Typically, only one person manages the shop on any given day. I was given a week to memorise the product catalogue of the farm. Retailing here required explaining about the product and services, a little history of the farm, cooking and serving frog meat, conducting family tours and basic cleanliness. Often, I do get weird requests from customers. Some asked about entering the frog pens. (Yes, you can) Some asked about having a staycation there. (No, you can’t) Some asked if they could bring home live frogs. Zheng Xun was critical whenever this request was made. There were some people who wanted to buy and release the frogs in the wild which was a huge taboo since the American Bullfrogs on the farm is an invasive species and would harm our local frog population. It would have been very profitable but wouldn’t be ethical.
The fruits of my research led to the birth of The Frog Quest, an all-in-one package that included activities such as frog feeding, catching frogs, an origami station as well as shopping discounts. I hung publicity posters and signs around the farm and conducted a pilot test on the fifth week. The first day, about 6 families took it up and The Frog Quest subsequently became a staple activity on the farm. When there were no customers while handling the retail, I took the time to put up frog jokes and fun facts using recyclables that I hung around the farm to complement The Frog Quest. I also had a hand in helping to find out how to introduce the farm tour programmes to schools by contacting my friends who are current school teachers and learnt how different schools managed their school learning journey programmes.
The agricultural scene was abuzz as news about a lease extension and release of new land sites for agriculture by AVA was released. Every week, there seemed to be one or two news agency interviewing Chelsea. I was tasked to write up a business report for the tender of the new land lease. Thus began weeks of intensive research, looking through financial records and interviewing people in the farm. Through this new project I learnt more about the farm’s history, sustainable practices, and the global frog farming industry. Chelsea drove me around to visit farms in Kranji Countryside to find out about the innovative, technological practices of other farms that could be implemented in JFF’s future. Through this report, I discovered the harsh reality of farms in Singapore and the people fighting to preserve this dying heritage. It was not easy to run a farm here and required passion and energy to keep this fragile dream alive. I saw how JFF had transformed so much over the years by blending in new technology, introducing new product lines and services to remain relevant. Even the tour services and shop that I had a chance to work with was a result of these transformations.
At the end of the day, it was the people on the farm that I had learnt the most from. I was inspired by Zheng Xun’s determination to constantly improve himself to his best abilities, Chelsea’s leadership skills and passion that kept JFF in the right track and Jackson’s resilience and capabilities that completed the dynamic crew. I enjoyed listening to the foreign worker’s life stories to which I also have learnt a great deal from. For example, Manoj, the Indian driver had plans to open up his own restaurant back home one day and Kholifa, who worked in the processing plant just got married.
It had been a most extraordinary journey here and I had most certainly enjoyed myself while learning at the same time. If given the chance to choose my place of internship again, JFF would definitely be my first choice.