Monday, 27 August 2012

Of family and friends

As I do the chores on the farm, my mind is always filled with all kinds of thoughts.  I began thinking that often we do not salute the people that have made an impact and been there in our lives.  When I first started out in farming, my parents were surprised and felt that I would be not be fulfilling my potential.  My dad's favorite line was "Belajar tinggi-tinggi sampai Amerika dan sekarang jadi petani".  However, they have always supported me in whatever I wanted to do so they did not prevent me from pursuing this area.  That is the greatness of the love they have for me - they are there for me and support me to explore and get new experiences.  Since then, my dad has often given me clippings of articles related to agriculture, given me suggestions of what can be produced at the farm as well as providing feedback on my produce.  My mother has also provided feedback on my produce and even given me seedling to start my herbal garden.  My husband, Giancarlo, is not into farming but since it is something I would love to do, he gives me the freedom to pursue this.  To me, in spite of their concern of all the hard work and money that I will have to put in, they give me their blessings.  SubhanAllah.  Alhamdulillah.

In the beginning of the adventure, a very good friend, Huzir Mahmud, was my comrade-in-arms in doing the manual land clearing and also with the inital planting of plants and trees.  He was my sounding board and never stingy in sharing his knowledge and spending hours working the land with me.  He truly contributed blood, sweat and tears as I began the farm.  Often, he would fo the the land to work on it when I was busy with my corporate life.  For that, I will always appreciate his friendship.  To me, he is like family.

Amongst the first friends that provided me with invaluable information and moral support was and is Kamarulzaman Bachik or as we friends refer as Man Bachik.  Although I had not spoken much to him over the years but when I first contacted him over 3 years ago to ask some questions after not talking to him for many more years than I can remember, he was as nice and helpful as when we were in MRSM KB.  He introduced me to organic fertilizers, shared his experience as well as gave me lots of information - never being stingy to share.  To me, Man Bachik is not a friend but a "sahabat".

My other sahabat is Daud Abu Hanipah, who also is like a mentor to me.  He has been involved in agriculture and aquaculture for many years and he provided me with real-life suggestions and advise.  He is also one who is generous in sharing his knowledge.  I enjoy sharing ideas and discussing with him as he is involved in aquaculture.  I first got to know him during my Unisys days and over the years, he has been a great friend.  Whenever I had a major activity that needed extra hands, he would always appear and help out, always with a cheerful persona.

One of the area of interest that I have is in our traditional herbs. I feel that the Malay traditional herbal knowledge and practice has lost ground and there is not much documentation on it. It would be a waste to lose it. In my quest to increase my knowledge in this area, I met Hj. Hassan Awang Din over three years ago. From the first time that I met him, he has always treated me warmly and been generous in sharing his knowledge. A humble and knowledgeable man in the cultivation and usage of traditional Malay herbs and spices, I have learnt much. Many of the herbal plants that I used to start my herbal garden came from him. Over the years, we have become like family and whenever I am in Kedah, I will pay him a visit at this home in Sik.

One of the people who give me motivational inspiration is Sharifah Sofianny Syed Hussein or more known as Sherry - here is a lady who during our MRSM days was not considered as a star student, often receiving comments to that effect from teachers and students.  Coming from a well-connected family, she could have opted out to be a leech in adulthood but instead has worked very hard to acquire knowledge and skills and is now a major player in the finance world.  Through it all, she has always remained down to earth and true to herself.  The passion she has for what she does shines through.  To me, she is a shining example of how you can achieve what you want by working hard, dedication, being disciplined and have a passion for what you are doing.

When bringing produce to market, I often experiment with how the produce can be transformed to form increased value item.  To this end, I have a straight-talking taste-tester, Sheila.  I first got to know Sheila during my time at TimeDotCom.  With her great personality and kind heart, we hit it off from the start and a great friendship was formed.  Her feedback is invaluable as she calls it like it is.  She has also assisted in marketing SHL products, all without being asked, and this to me marks true support of a friend.  Her continued support, both as a taster, marketer and as a customer is very much appreciated.

Over the past two years, my main assistant is Azis, someone who works with me and views the growing and development of the farm as more than a job, but as a way of life.  The passion and care that he has for the farm is something that I appreciate and one that I can depend on to take charge when I am not at the farm.  He does not count the hours that he works nor quibble over minor issues. The farm is surrounded by hilly forest hence quite often in the pre-dawn hours, all sorts of animals would come and "visit" the farm such as wild pigs, river otters and fox.  The dogs and the geese would create a commotion, and without fail, Azis will get up and check it out and ensure that all is well before he gets more rest and at times, foregoing sleep as it is already daylight and time to start the day.  This commitment that he has to the safety of the farm is something that money cannot buy and I feel blessed to have someone like him at the farm. As we have worked alongside, he has become family, a younger brother.

In life, one does not walk alone, so I am thankful to have a great family and wonderful friends - Nur Suraya, Foong Lee, Anis, Nas and many more.  To all my friends who have attended and supported my various events as well as being my customers, thank you very much.  Allahuakbar.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Baby Potatoes

When I went to Kerinci, I was amazed at the amount of agricultural produce available and one of the items that I loved the most was the baby potatoes.  These potatoes are small and I often see it here in the grocery stores as imported items from Australia mainly.  Of course the price is ......
You can cook them in many ways and you do not need to peel the skin, just give them a good scrub and prepare them as you wish.  Since I saw that it can be planted there, I thought why not at the farm.  The climate is similar - once you go over the hills to the other side, the mornings are much cooler, lots of good rain and much cleaner air.

While I was there, I bought a 2 kg of it and ate half of it, of course not all by myself, leaving half for planting.  It is easy to start them - I just placed them on the ground and covered it with a layer of soil and waited.  It took about a week before I started to see the shoots.  In Kerinci, the soil that it was planted in was richly organic hence I prepared beds with lots of organic content - mainly from my compost.

I just transplanted a row and since this is my first attempt, am logging the progress.  I am trying to simulate the same soil conditions as in Kerinci although I am not able to achieve the high humus content that the soil looks almost black.  It is important for it to have the right water content - not dry and not wet - and for good drainage.  Since I have opted to keep as farw away from chemical herbicides, preparation of the beds too a day, first removing the grass and weeds, the turning over the gound, mixing the soil with compost and finally, I was ready to make the beds.  As the chickens and geese have the run of the farm, I had to add bamboo stakes to fence all around it to prevent them from raking the beds and also the geese from eating the shoots. 
There are so many was to prepare these potatoes.  Personnally, I like it "fried" in olive oil with chopped garlic and cilantro and this can be eaten in place of rice, mashed potatoes, etc. with grilled fish, steaks or chicken, making it a really healthy AND delicious meal.  For the Asian flavors, these potatoes can be placed in soups and curries.  Whichever way you cook it, you have the option of eating it with its skins, no need to peel them, just give them a good wash and they are ready to be cooked.
The nutrition facts vary slightly but the table below gives me an idea of its nutrition.  So, if you watch the oil and fat that you add when you cook, it will be a low-fat option.  If you bake it, guess what - it is cholesterol and saturated fat free!

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 200g
Amount per Serving Calories 93
Calories from Fat 1.8% 
Total Fat 0.2g
Saturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 244mg
Total Carbohydrate 21g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 1g
Protein 3g

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Prime, tasty keli (catfish)

Prior to owning the farm and getting into producing fresh water fish, I didn't like fresh water fish and stayed away from Keli like the plague.  The keli that I had tasted has a muddy taste as well as had a smell.  Even now when I go to supermarkets, I can detect whenever there is "gutted" keli - there is a distinct odor!    However, I kept hearing how some people raved over keli so I decided to experiment and raise my own keli.  After gutting and cleaning over 100 keli recently, I can definitely say that I didn't come out smelly :).  It seems to be a popular fish especially crispy fried keli and smoked keli in coconut milk with bird's eye chillies (masak lemak keli dengan cili padi).
After my initial proof-of-concept, several key components were clear to me:
  1. Good, clean, uncontaminated water source
  2. Quality feed with scheduled feeding times
  3. Flowing water to ensure removal of fish wastes and prevent waste build-ups
We are blessed with having a good, clean source from upriver where the water has not been contaminated that you can even drink directly from it.  You can even go swimming with the keli though I do not recommend it just in case you get a feel of the sting from them.  We also do not use chemical herbicides or pesticides to ensure that these chemicals do not end up in the fish ponds from the water drainage.
During the first month, I feed the frys with high protein starter/growth fish pellets to ensure proper growth.  Once the average size of the fish was approximately 6 inches long, I started feeding them what is called "grower feed".  We also included fresh greens such as young tapioca leaves, keladi leaves as well as tebrau shoots.  Once a week, they would also get the inner pseudostem of banana plants or ubud pisang. The inner pseudostem serves a dual purpose: as an additional element to the feed and also as a water cleanser. The keli also feed on other types of small fishes that came in with the water flow.  We do not feed it with any carcasses or chicken innards.As far as possible we try to emulate what fishes eat naturally.
With approximately 10,000 keli, it was important for us to ensure that there is no waste buildup in the ponds hence the constant inflow and outflow of the water helped managed the water quality level as well as waste removal.
As the fish do not all grow at the same rate, similar to other life forms, it was important to perform grading of the fish by size.  This also helps reduce the canibalization of the smaller fish by the larger fish as well as help us in grouping the fish ready for sale.  This task is performed every three weeks.
Moving forward, we have learnt that we will need to add "cages" to help in the grading efforts as well as ensuring higher productivity.
From the farm, we sell fresh keli and have started the sales process.  At the moment, the sales is done once a month but we are putting into place a fortnightly schedule and ultimately, a weekly schedule.
As at the farm, we also grow lemongrass along with other herbs and condiments, I decided to experiment in making smoked keli with lemongrass infusion.  It takes about 4-6 hours of slowly smoking to produce the smoked keli.  I love the taste of it with its slightly lemony taste and tried it in rice porridge, similar to how you would add salted fish or other"bits".  It gives a different delicious flavor to the porridge.  This will be a near-future product of SHL and will be made available at the SP Sunday morning market as well as by special order. I am happy that we have received good reviews on the taste of our keli and we hope with further improvements made, insyAllah, we can continue to produce tasty, quality keli. 
If you would like more information on purchasing our keli, you can contact us via e-mail at or call 019-2089062.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Free-Range Kampung Chicken

Over the past year, I have been testing out growing Ayam Kampung or Village Chicken.  During that period, I was monitoring the feed and growth as well as the general health of the chicken along with its predators.  I was also building my prime stock - the starter for all my chickens.  We also sold the eggs produced as there was too many for us to consume and it was well-received.  The chickens that we raise are strictly ayam kampung and also mixed-bred with ayam hutan.  The eggs produced have a golden yellow yolk and are smaller in size in comparison to the regular eggs.
I tried a few types of "homes" for them and finally settled on one, an enclosure with partial roof as well as laying boxes for the hens.  We also placed "standing" rails where the chickens put place themselves during the night time.  It appeared that they preferred to be above ground when they rest at night.  It was really interesting to watch them look for their spots as darkness fell.  As these chickens can fly, albeit not at a very high height, the fencing around the enclosure is about 12 feet high and to prevent them from getting up to the roof of their house, we placed the zinc vertically.
The hens seems to be happy with their laying boxes although I cannot understand why sometimes they want to share the boxes when there are empty boxes.  Alhamdulillah, they seem to lay every day and over this period of Ramadhan and Aidil Fitri, I have decided to let them hatch their eggs.  At last count there are over 50 eggs and it would be interesting to see how many hatch.  This will my starting point for seriously rearing chickens. 
It seems that these types of chickens are popular and not easy to find, and when you do find it, it is more expensive.  It makes sense as you require a larger area as well natural source of food for them supplemented with store-bought feed.  The growth period is also slower as compared to cage-reared chicken that spends its days in the cages.
The chickens are let out during the day, to forage for insects and worms as well as the greens such as grass.  We also fed them with the extra ripe bananas and papayas as well as grated coconut that we had extracted the milk from.  So they also served as our organic disposal "machines".  Every evening around 6pm, we feed them crushed corn and they seem to have this down to a tea.  Should I be walking around during this time, they will follow me until I feed them their corn.
The chickens I raise are strictly for food and not for fights.  So, I am selective as to who I sell it to.  If all goes according to plans, then we will be able to offer for sale free-range ayam kampung in the near future.

Ramadhan at Suria Helang Lui

Ramadhan is the season where we strive to be better people and hope that we continue to do so throughout the rest of our lives.  It is a time where we reflect and perform our daily routines to the best of our abilities and adjust to include other special activities.  Before we can encourage others, it has to start at home and with ourselves.  So at the farm, we made changes for this wonderful month.  To start with, we adjusted the time and types of activities that we do during the work time.  We start early, after Suboh and take a break during the heat of the day from 11am - 3pm and continue after that until about an hour before Maghrib.  Alhamdulillah, we have the flexibility of managing our time and activities accordingly.
I appreciate the bounty which I am blessed with so I strive to avoid wastes and minimize the damage to the land that I have some control over.  To start with, we pay attention to recycling from organic to inorganic wastes. Skins, used grated coconut, unused vegetable portions and the like are turned into animal food for the chickens and geese.  Leftovers that we do not want to consume are mixed with the dog food for our protectors.  Any un-recycled to feed organic matter are placed into the compost pile to be recycled into the soil and improve the organic content of the soil.  I try to maximize any opportunities to recycle organic materials.

Being out in the country, there is no set waste disposal mechanism so you have to create one for yourself.  To this end, we separate our waste, what can be put into our garbage "hole" and what we can and have to send to recycling centers.  This is done to mimize damage to the environment that we have been blessed with.  To me, this is one of the ways of how we demonstrate our gratitude for the lovely environment that we have been provided for by Allah s.w.t.

How we do our farming is also very important.  To minimize damage to the land, we do not use pesticides or herbicides to control the weeds.  Yes, we do spend a lot of time in weeding and cutting weeds and grass but it will all return to the soil, improving the quality of the land.  Weeding also gives me the opportunity to berzikir and find peace and tranquility improving my mental health.  This natural farming approach helps ensure that we minimize  pollution and endangerment of health and lives on the farms - human and otherwise.  Hence I do not have to worry about poisoning the fish nor any of the other animals or of adding poisons to our food, albeit minute amounts at a time.  It would be an oxymoron to do otherwise considering we have good water quality and food feed.

It is the principle at the farm, that the produce we sell must be at the level that we want for ourselves.  If we do not want to eat it, we do not produce or sell it.  To us, this is the best way of earning rezeki that we hope will receive Allah s.w.t. blessings.  During this fasting month, we have an abundance of produce and what better use than to split the produce into what to sell and what to share.  After all, isn't this the best time to share food with other people?
Mangosteen conserve
This period has also given me the opportunity to experiment with different ways of preserving the produce to prolong the length that it can be edible either by pickling, conserving or drying.  It has enabled me to try out various recipes and ways of preparing my meals and given me an appreciation to enjoying quality local food.

We at the farm take this opportunity to wish all of our Muslim family Selamat Menunaikan Ibadah di Bulan Ramadhan and Selamat Menyambut Aidil Fitri, Maaf dzahir dan bathin.