Cynthea Lam of Super Farmers is one of the warmest people we've ever met. She's refreshingly honest, sincere, and genuinely wants to connect with people. Over at her studio in Joo Chiat — aptly named HOUSE by Super Farmer — she runs workshops and programmes to, in her words, "help people be their most authentic selves."
We stopped by for tea and hung out in her garden while she candidly shared her personal failures and triumphs, the story behind Super Farmers, and her deep love for chai.
At a time where a lot of brands equate self-care with pampering yourself and face masks, Super Farmers stands out for your approach to emotional self-care. Could you share with us how you curate your programming?
Honestly, this stemmed from my personal journey of discovery, seeking, and finding peace.
It all began some 13 years ago — I remember staring out of my office window feeling very, very stressed at work. I was also very exhausted; I was having insomnia — it turned out to be a six-year bout of insomnia and I was only somewhere in the middle of it then. I was also having relentless eczema on my hand. My hand was so crusty from a recent scratch attack. When you have eczema, it can get really itchy even in your sleep, so you could potentially wake up every morning to open, bloody wounds, and have no idea how they got there!
As my eyes scanned outside of the office window, I saw a perfect-looking tree! It had branches spread wide for its leaves to capture sunlight, a trunk to transport nutrients and wter, and roots that anchored the tree steadily to the ground to draw up nutrients and water to grow more leaves. In turn, those leaves would provide shelter and protection for the person standing underneath it. I began to wonder, who created this tree? This question kickstarted a slew of other similar questions about life, human beings and how the universe work… I’m not religious at all, but that moment with the tree definitely began a little spiritual awakening within me.
Everything I do here at Super Farmers is the result of my own personal journey of seeking life’s answers — an extension of me. I started Super Farmers as an urban farming company, something I emulated from others but wasn’t actually reflective of me, and I’m so glad we have pivoted over the years to focus on what we do today: nutrition, wellness and emotional self-care. I want every single person who comes to Super Farmers to feel loved and be respected for who they are.
At the moment, I am focused on building programmes and courses centred around our relationships with food and the way we eat them — and again, this stemmed from my personal journey with food.
From your experience, why do you think so many of us have such unhealthy relationships with food?
Fear! The fear from our upbringing, from the news, people around us, figures of authority, etc. The world has an obsession with assigning labels like guilt and shame to food. For example, I love fried chicken wings — I really do! — and there was a friend who asked me, “I thought you’re supposed to be eating healthy since you run this business. Why are you indulging in something so unhealthy?”
Here’s the thing: fried chicken is food! It absolutely has nutritional value and there’s no need to feel guilty or shameful about eating it because life is about striking a balance. Food has so many different emotional attachments to different people, but on its own, food is actually innocent. We are the ones who project our own fears onto what we eat and start to give it labels such as “sinful”, “indulgent” or “bad”.
When I was in primary 3, I was bullied for being fat, different, and non-conforming. The period of my childhood made me realise how hard it is to be authentic in a world full of conformists. Even today, I notice a lot of people hold themselves back from being the most true and best versions of themselves. Instead, they allow emotions such as fear, anger, and guilt to control their lives, including their relationships with food.
Through Super Farmers, you've managed to reach and help so many people in their healing journey — how has Super Farmers helped you in your own healing?
Every pivot I’ve made at Super Farmers has allowed me to become a more authentic version of myself, and when I am more myself, I free up more emotional space to help people who are looking to do the same [with healing]. And the feelings I receive after each workshop that I facilitate are immense feelings of satisfaction, hope, gratitude, and love for life and for others — it’s a full circle!
Also, I’ve created a conducive and safe space here at Super Farmers for our participants to feel at home and be at ease. The big herb garden just outside our kitchen truly brings me so much joy every single day, and gives me an instant connection with nature — our greatest healer!
You mentioned that you're a former chronic insomniac. Do you have any tips for those of us who always have trouble sleeping?
For starters, I recommend getting a really good bed. I invested in a good mattress because it’s the most essential part of sleep. Personally, through a lot of self-reflective work aided by meditation, I’ve managed to identify the main life issues that caused my insomnia.
A few months ago, a lady came in to visit us and asked for me. She said she’d been reading our blog and resonated with being an insomniac. I had an intuition that she had a lot of unresolved anger and worries towards her career and family, and asked if that was true. She burst into tears, and said, “Bullseye”, and left. I wished I could’ve helped her by working through her issues with her.
When I say I meditate, I don’t do it the conventional way of being in a quiet corner, with crossed legs and closed eyes. My version of meditation is simply finding pockets of time everyday where I work on that day’s problems and symptoms. It's my own rewiring process, to dive deep into issues without running away from them and face them so that I can resolve them.
These days, I don’t really have trouble sleeping. In fact, every time I try to watch Netflix before bedtime, I can't even make it past the Netflix title scene!
Is there a herb or plant that you would recommend for folks like us who don't have a green thumb but desperately want to join the gardening league?
Growing a plant is actually very simple – it’s all about not giving up trying. You won’t need technology such as hydroponics or anything like that. As long as you have a basic understanding of how much sun, water, and ventilation your plant needs, you will be okay!
To start, experiment with growing your leftover ingredients. For example, you can pot gingers once they have grown green buds at the edges (if they’ve been sitting in your pantry for a while). The ginger would start growing leaves... and you can eat these leaves! Traditional Malay dishes, like Nasi Ulam, actually make use of ginger leaves.
Next, If you have small or medium purple onions sitting around, you just need to peel off the dry skin and stick them in soil — it will grow into a spring onion! If you buy lemongrass from the market (which usually comes with more white parts of the stem still intact), simply soak it in a little bit water to encourage root growth and once roots emerge, stick it in soil to continue growing.
Final question: what's your favourite homemade tea blend?
We drink cold tisanes everyday here at Super Farmers for general wellness. So, there’re a few signature blends we usually have in the fridge that I have simply named ‘Digestion’, ‘Joy’, ‘Respiratory’, and so on. But I really enjoy drinking a good cup of chai! It’s my nightcap.
I love how chai gives my gut and intestines a good cleanse at night, so that when I wake up the next morning, I’m ready to go! (laughs)
Cynthea has kindly shared her nightly chai recipe with our #SundaySleepClub. Thanks so much for your time and honesty, Cynthea!
Pillow Talk is an interview series done in collaboration with Public Culture, an editorial experience studio that believes in connection over communication. This feature was photographed by Christopher Wong for Sunday Bedding and Public Culture.
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