Wednesday, 27 April 2016

My farm, my life for a better future.

Over the years, many people have asked, "Why did you make such a drastic change in your life and left your high-flying corporate life for farming?".  To many people, it was something crazy to do.  After all, leaving that life meant leaving those stable, good pay, monthly checks, fancy life-style, losing people's respect and admiration to name a few.  My formal educational background has nothing to do with agriculture coming from IT/Telco/Civil Security and Defense working life.  However, it is one of my best adventure yet and it continues.  I have the best of both worlds: city life 5-10 minutes of KLCC and country life 45 minutes away.

While you are in the employable age, life is good if you have a good job with a stable pay checks.  What happens when you retire?  What will you do?  Can you continue to have a good life in all aspects: home, health and life?  I decided to make a change early, starting something that I have a passion for and whilst being young enough to build to my retirement.  My choice led me to something that I can do until the day I die, in shaa Allah, better health, better lifestyle.  At the end of the day, things do not bring you happiness.  I am used to being active and what I am doing now keeps me busy and the activity is determined by me.  I do not have to sit for mindless meetings,  I can make a difference on personal levels and have more meaningful impact.  Nothing that I have learned in my corporate experience goes to waste: I project manage different projects at the farm, I do P&L, I do budgeting and planning for CAPEX and OPEX.  On top of that, I finally found practical use of what I learnt in high school Physics, Chemistry and Biology.  I found out the practicalness of knowing the Periodic Table in Chemistry, the importance of Nitrogen, Potassium as well as other elements in the periodic table.  The concepts of Force in Physics also came into play when I was designing our water supply structure without the need for using machinery.  As for Biology - farming is all about Biology.  I become more aware of the environment and the gift of it.  I am more appreciative of all the natural bounty that we tend to forget when living in an artificial world less connected with nature.

I would say that I have a more fancy life-style now.  I eat quality food - majority of my food are natural, organic and fresh - the kind that you pay from rm 10-30 per kg and you are still not 100% sure of it goodness and freshness or free from preservatives when it comes from a store.  I get to enjoy a scenic and serene environment without having to spend hundreds of ringgit per night.  I do
not need to pay for a gym to get a workout but instead get a good workout in a wonderful oxygen-rich environment with wonderful views.  I also get to spend all those precious moment with my now 3-year old son which are priceless.  These are moments that you can never recover: the first word, his first step, his joy and wonder at discovery.  I get to schedule my time according to what I want to do, what is important to me and not what is dictated to me.  Is it all roses?  Of course not.  I face challenges with the weather, the  natural pests, figuring out what is best for my son, watching what I spend, and need versus want, as well as the future.  Still, it beats my old life hands-down.

Being a farmer, I am often looked-down upon by people I just met.  After all, most are still ignorant to the fact that farming requires knowledge, flexibility and resilience.  It is not something you do when you have no choice.  It is not something that you can do without capital investment and operating expense.  Generally, it is not something for the person who didn't finish their basic schooling.  Within the farm area, I have seen many start and fail, maybe some with the idea that they can make lots of money in a short time.    It is hard work but infinitely satisfying when you see your plants and animals thrive.

Sometimes people talk to me in a condescending manner when I am our market stall and it gives me a good take on people and their stereotyping tendencies.  I love doing the stall as it gives me an outlet for social interaction, an opportunity to encourage people to eat good food as well as to plant and garden.  At the same time, it is also a venue for exchanging ideas and knowledge in a relaxed setting.  Some of the comments that I have heard directed to me is : "Tengok tu, orang jual sayur boleh cakap orang puteh","Didn't think that she actually knows about what she is selling", "Ada duit, buat apa jual sayur?".  Basically degrading comments but it always gives me a good laugh.  Sometimes I am bad and would respond back in Spanish.  Hahahaha.... On the other hand, I have also had appreciative friends and customers who are happy to get my produce as well as sharing of knowledge.

The farm is strictly natural and organic.  No chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers are used.  We also do not use any antibiotics or hormones (either for plants or animals).  Through the years, I
have developed our own fertilisers and pest control for use at the farm.  95% of the source material for creating them are from the farm.  The remaining 5% are organic salts or molasses.  These liquid fertilisers have been designed for specific types or needs and done with the aim of keeping costs as low as possible whilst making it easy and non-harmful to use.  I am not worried if my toddler decides to run off and spray all over the plants with it nor am I worried that it gets on his body.  I get to do many practical experiments from seed production to producing quality produce.  It satisfies my curious nature and challenges my mind.  The whole farm is my experimental area with the greenhouse being the focus.  The more I discover, the more questions I have so I find I am living in a constant learning environment which helps in my brain activity.  A few people have commented that I am a non-conformist and maverick.  Well, I refuse to accept the status-quo of chemical pesticide and herbicide world and profit above all else mentality.

Starting the farm, Suria Helang Lui - the name coming from Suria relating to the rising of a new "day" or chapter in my life, Helang from the eagle that I saw flying over the sky the first time I visited the land, and Lui from the name of the river, Sungai Lui - is one that have brought me all that I can ask for - the good, the bad and the ugly - and through it all, gives me a full life.  I hope to leave a positive legacy to my son and also the choice of continuing this or pursuing what he loves, whatever it may be.  Alhamdulillah.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Post-Mortem: Open Farm Day 2016

Our Open Farm Day held on Sunday, April 24, 2016 was one we consider a success.  We had lots of visitors and even though there were only 3 of us, I think we managed quite well.  In comparison to the one we held last year, we have come a long way and made adjustments based on the feedback from last year.  This year, we started preparing 2 months and we were running out of time.  Looks like next time around, we will have to start 6 months before the event so that we will be less stressed.

Over the months, I have received many questions on fertilising, pest control and soil composition so I did a short talk on this topic and was happy that there were questions.  I am not an agriculture expert so I only talk to what I know based on my experience and experiments - the practicing organic farmer.

This year, we had prepared over 1000 seedlings including:

  1. 2 varieties of papaya, 
  2. cili paid, 
  3. red sweet bell pepper, 
  4. yellow hungarian wax, 
  5. ulam raja, 
  6. indian borage, 
  7. snake grass, 
  8. bunga tasbih, 
  9. small galangal, 
  10. bentong ginger, 
  11. turmeric, 
  12. holy basil, 
  13. white basil, 
  14. purple eggplant, 
  15. terung telunjuk,
  16. roselle
  17. cabbage
  18. broccoli
  19. red spinach
  20. parsley
  21. leek
  22. serai Mwangi (citronella)
  23. cekur
  24. momotaro tomato
  25. cherry tomato
  26. orchid butan belalai
  27. pagoda.
With this many varieties, our shortfall was in labelling each polybag - a comment that we received as a feedback.  We are taking note of this and will endeavour to improve in this area in the future.  There were also some request for fruiting trees so we will get started on the next month to allow for the plants to be strong and healthy for the next ever, which will most likely be next year.  I am toying with the idea of having an event during the fruit season so we will see how it goes :).

Last year, another feedback was to provide signage and paths to areas.  We have improved it but we still have to improve this a bit more.  We will work on making a more level path to certain areas including to the greenhouse, which was the most visited area.

This year, we had drinks for sale, as a response to some requests last year.  We didn't one to have regular commercial soft drinks so we prepared farm-based produce drinks.  The most popular drink was the bentong ginger & turmeric drink.  We are taking note of this so we will be planting a lot more of this ginger as well as turmeric.

We got mixed feedback on the pictorial and directions for getting here.  One of the problem was Googlemap and FB insisted that it is located elsewhere,  We are addressing this with the relevant parties.  The pictorial proved useful to many but some commented on maybe adding a couple more photos once the it is in the "kampung" road area.  As such, we will update the pictorial guide in the future.

My Maxis line went on a frits,  I couldn't receive calls but could do everything else.  To address this, I had provided an alternate contact number which many used.  However, I still had a lot of "missed calls".  My apologies to these people but there wasn't much I could do with it.  I will be going to Maxis today to resolve this issue.

Our fresh produce was well received and luckily we were at the farm because we did have to harvest more during the day.  The most favourite was the papaya.  In shaa Allah, we will endeavour to get more harvest for the next event as we are adding more plants as well as replacing older ones.  With the greenhouse now ready to go, we hope to produce more vegetables next time around.

With it being very busy for us, we didn't get a chance to take photos so I would appreciate it if anyone did, to please send it to me.  I got one photo which I appreciate very much.    In spite of feeling dead tired by the end of the day, we feel that the response we got from our visitors were well worth it.  Many asked if they can visit again any time.  Unfortunately, it would be difficult to accommodate it as the 3 of us take care of a farm of 2.5 acres and we do a weekly market to sell our produce.  We schedule almost everything and have a rolling activity plan extending to 18 months.

We hope all our visitors had a good visit and we appreciate you spending the day with us.  Thank you.