I had a vision of what I wanted the farm to be like. I tried looking nationwide for something like what I had in mind but I couldn't find one. With some of the experts that I had spoken to, they said what I had in mind was not feasible, that none has done a farm like what I had in mind, Furthermore, it would be difficult to get government assistance if I didn't focus and produce limited types of produce. It has never been my aim to obtain government assistance nor do I want to be bothered by the politics and bureaucracy.
Did I fear that I would fail? I didn't consider failure but focus on making it successful. To me, thinking of all the ways that it could fail was a waste of time and energy and without any benefit. Instead, I focussed to gaining as much knowledge as possible from practicing experts, those who have real-life experience and not necessarily those with MSc, MBA or PhD. Whilst academic knowledge is good, nothing beats real-life work. Theories and concepts may be good starting points, but there are many factors in the real world that may not be accounted for in academia. Moreover, I do not have unlimited funding nor do I rely on government grants or assistance to finance my project. I have always loved challenges on working on things that people said couldn't be done, too difficult or too much effort. I experimented and documented my experiments for my own use. I learnt from my errors and inexperience and the joy of discovery. I strive for balance, maximising nature's bounty and not using any chemical pesticides or herbicides. I strive to maintain and balance the eco-system, appreciating simplicity and complexity of nature.
I am happy to hear the birds, some of which are in the protected and endangered species and I do not permit catching or trapping them. I had to expedite fencing the property because bird hunters were encroaching my farm and trying to catch them. I chased away people who came to release lots of pigeons for some reason or another as to me, it would impact the eco-system.
I am blessed to have clean, uncontaminated water supply that brings with it many types of river fish such as kelah daun, titan, bujuk, selling and many others. All this are indicators to me that the water quality is good that these fishes can survive. At the first glance, it is hard to imagine that the water from the source would be able to support the farm as it looks small. However, by creating a water collection area, it allowed us to lay polypipes to the farm. Now, others are sharing what we built and it is great that we are able to support the neighbours.
We rear catfish, tilapia and lamp am plus we have an assortment of other fishes that entered the pond with the water. With water flowing in and out continuously, the water quality for the fish is good and we do not require oxygenation machines for the fish pond. Although we use fish pellets, it is a supplement to our natural foods which will remain our secret. The net effect is our fish have a natural sweetness to it and does not have any "muddy" smell or taste. A bid no-no in feeding the fish is carcasses and other animal wastes such as chicken stomachs. We sell them fresh or filleted and sometimes marinated, depending on customer special request. When I have time, we do produce smokes fish or lightly-salted dried fish. We are not yet proficient on the production of our fresh water fish hence we are not able to keep up with demand but it is our hope, in the coming year, we will have a marked improvement in productivity.
In developing the land, I didn't raze and flatten it to clear the land but did it by hand. I learnt to use the parang, sabot and the weed cutter. This allowed me to check the vegetation and retain what was already there such as bunga kantan or ginger torch, senduduk human, dukung anak and many other types of plants natural to the habitat that had therapeutic or food value.
After getting the lay of the land, we started planting fruit trees, ones that would take a few years to start fruiting. Over the course of the years, we have added more fruit trees as I began to section off areas. I added a greenhouse for the more sensitive to pest plants such as tomatoes, pak choy and its cousins and cabbage. We have a section for the other vegetables, herbal section and "rotating" planting areas. The rotating planting areas are for plants like cassava or ubi kayu, lemon grass or serai, bananas etc. to ensure the soil remains healthy.
The first structure built was a store room cum bathroom with a well since in the beginning, I hadn't figured out the water supply yet. IT took a couple of years to build as I had it built in stages. The main idea was to have an easy to maintain functional farmhouse. It is simple and all the floors and walls are tiled as I didn't want to have to spend a lot of time cleaning. Now,the farmhouse is almost complete - there is still some small details to be completed but as you may guess, it is at the bottom of my list of to-dos. The features that I love about it is the surau, the big kitchen, and my bathroom. With lots of water, I can have nice cool, long showers.
With all the produce from the farm, we have elected to sell it ourselves to ensure quality, freshness and competitive pricing as to practice our principle of providing affordable quality pesticide-free and herbicide-free food. For the last three years we have had a stall at the Sunday morning market in Sungai Penchala and I am happy that we have many regulars. We also a few types of herbal teas at the market and also via mail. Our selling principle is we do not sell what we do not eat or drink. Hence, we have tried it all and also eat or drink it regularly.
As we move into 2015, I look forward to being more productive, more efficient whilst not compromising on quality, freshness and price competitiveness and above all, enjoying what I do and getting satisfaction at seeing people loving my produce. We at Suria Helang Lui wish everyone a fruitful and joyous 2015 and may we build more relationships whilst solidifying existing ones.