On the rooftop of Orchard's SCAPE building is an aquaponics farm, Comcrop, that became profitable last year. Among snaking air-conditioning vents and in the baking head of the afternoon sun, the farm grows basil, mint, rosemary and various lettuces and leafy greens, supplying hotels, restaurant chains such as SaladStop and even some of your favorite bars—all through a cool, closed ecosystem that uses large A-frames where plants are stacked high and involves 70% less water than regular farming. A team of elderly woman do daily harvests. An army of ladybugs deals with aphids and other potential pests, and tanks of tilapia fish naturally fertilize the closed systems. Here, farm manager Samantha Chin, sales manager Darren Tan, CEO Niyati Gupta and co-founder Allan Lim are paving the way for what they hope will be the next generation of farmers. (This year, they aim to open a massive, second farm in Woodlands.)

We paid Niyati a visit to check out the farm and learn more about her work. The Harvard grad, who has also been a longtime McKinsey consultant and an agro-biz development advisor in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, is an exciting hybrid professional, part-farmer and part-entrepreneur, managing harvest and courting investors all at the same time. Here, she tells us more about how she got here, and why she hopes other young people will, too.

My mom’s family are all farmers, so we still own orchards today in India—mango orchards. Every year I used to go back and be really fascinated about people’s lives in really rural areas. And I ended up during college and after college, working a good deal with farmers in developing countries and understanding how food systems work.

Food is so fundamental to us, and yet we haven’t figured out how to continue growing it and eating it in a way that’s sustainable. Currently the way that we eat is not really providing a livelihood for most of the people growing our food. It’s not providing a means to rejuvenate the environment.

That’s what led me to vertical and urban farming solutions. You grow produce right where you have the maximum amount of consumption, and do it in a way using 70% less water, not using any additional land, not using any toxic chemicals that you might use in industrial farming. I don’t think urban farming is going to solve all the problems in the food system, but it’s part of the solution.

Singapore is actually doing very well [when it comes to food security]. It’s amazing that we’re growing 10% of the leafy greens we eat. We’ve hit 20-30% of our protein needs just through off-shore fish farming and production of chicken eggs. There is actually a vibrant local farming scene that not a lot of people are connected to. There are companies like Panasonic that are looking at indoor farming. There are companies like Sky Greens that are looking at vertical systems.

There’s a fair amount of government support and innovation happening in urban farming, more than in other cities in Asia.

The important thing about restaurants is that they’re espousing a philosophy of farm-to-table, even though it’s hard to mimic something they might have seen in Europe or Australia. But the underlying philosophy is something we can all agree with—trusting your food and knowing how it’s grown.

In fact, I’m really inspired by some of my customers. Some of these restaurants are actually ahead of their consumers. One example is SaladStop, where they definitely look for the most regional or local option, given certain quality standards. We also work with a lot of the top bars. They just want to make a fantastic cocktail, and mint just smells and tastes like a different beast when it’s been just been harvested that day from a farm, as opposed to spending five or six days in a container somewhere and being quarantined on its way from Malaysia.

With local produce, people know what they’re getting. You know there are no toxic chemicals—and you just can’t be sure of that when it’s coming from elsewhere. Then, there’s just freshness. You’re probably eating it a week from harvest at most, which has implications on how long it lasts in your fridge, how yummy and crunchy it is to eat and also how nutritious it is. It’s better quality stuff that’s better for you.

It’s just like how Singapore innovated for its water supply. Food is the next frontier and it applies to any densely populated city. We want to be a part of that movement. Our hope is to have many farms in Singapore, but also farms in large Southeast Asian or Chinese cities. There’s absolutely a demand for it.

Our immediate next goal is a flagship commercial farm in Woodlands. The farm at SCAPE is a test bed. It’s profitable, but it’s definitely version 1.0 where we are tweaking the technology, the protocol, what kinds of yields we can get.

We have proven that we can run a profitable farm with viable yields in the middle of the city. Proven to the government—to get future approvals for farms. Proven to real estate developers who were nervous about structural conditions, drainage, overflow of water and other impacts on their buildings. Proven to investors that there is indeed a market for this. Even if you don’t rely on cheap immigrant labor, this can work in a profitable way. And lastly, proven to the broader Singapore community.

Nature manages to creep into the most urban setting. If we get aphids, they do draw ladybirds and bees. We have bird nests developing at the farm—so literally we have birds and bees. There are weeds and new kinds of animals that are native to Singapore that have just started emerging because you’ve introduced nature to this really concrete context.

Being at the intersection of urban farming and start-ups is exciting. People are interested in following our progress, and they want to see us succeed. On the other hand, so much of the start-up world has got to do with tech—as narrow as e-commerce, mobile applications—and I find that we’re still a funny looking animal that doesn’t fit neatly into any one box. We’re not raising a little bit of money for a few developers. We’re doing something that takes a real investment in assets, together with the technology, and if we don’t sell the product, it’s perishable and gets wasted.

My relatives still don’t take any advice from me on the family farms! I tell them about how to manage the collection and distribution of mangos, how they can optimize farm management practices, and they don’t take me seriously.

They come from a very different mentality of farming, where it’s important to just keep the network of people engaged in the farm—the families that have been working with the orchard for generations—happy and afloat. And that’s best done by keeping to the status quo.

My family was kind of horrified that I was doing this. They were like, “You are our bright spark—you went to all these fancy institutions. Why are you getting into farming?”

Because every single human on the planet relies on it, and most humans on this planet rely on it for their livelihood. Yet we don’t have the best and the brightest of our current generation thinking about these problems.

Hopefully what we’re doing will inspire the next generation of farmers, because I really don’t know what that’s going to look like.

I really want to encourage other young people to think about farming and think about it as a fun, sexy topic—not synonymous with poverty, but instead a picture of exciting new developments, technology, ways of getting yummy, safer, healthier food. You can go to work in Orchard and use your smartphone. It’s a completely different model of farming, manipulating data and doing truly interesting work.