Wednesday, 26 April 2017

SHL Development: Planning for 2018 and the future

After almost 8 years of developing the farm, both from the physical development to the product development, and after numerous experiments and tests from produce and products to marketing them, 2018 will bring some major changes to how we do things.  It is the fine-tuning of what we have been doing and also changes to how I want to spend my time.  One of the aspects that I love of what I do now is being able to produce nutrients-rich products.  The idea of enjoying tasty drinks that delivers nutrients that my body needs so that it becomes a natural part of my life is something that I want to promote to everyone.  Consuming natural food as opposed to processed and chemical enhanced food is something that I advocate.  Consuming natural food also doesn't mean that you need a lot of time to prepare for the food nor does it mean expensive - often people forget to add the cost of medical services, supplements to their diet, etc.

In streamlining our end-products from the farm would be, we will have basically four types:
  1. SHL natural drink concentrates and teas
  2. Fruits and selected vegetables
  3. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (EVCO)  
  4. Fish
SHL Natural drink concentrates and teas
Over the last two years, we have market tested several varieties of drinks and teas based on what we grow at the farm.  Based on our finding as well as on what I love due to its taste and benefits, the selection was made.  The underlying principle is that it has to be organically-grown and provides nutrients and therapeutic benefits.  All our concentrate drinks are unsweetened and the choice to sweeten or not is left to the consumer.  The concentrates that we will produce are:
  1. Bentong Ginger and Turmeric
  2. Roselle concentrate
  3. Roselle probiotics concentrate
  4. Cold-pressed calamansi juice
  5. Cold-pressed calamansi juice with lemongrass
  6. Cold-pressed calamansi juice with blue sweet pea flower extract
The dried teas that we will produce are:
  1. Misai Kuching Tea
  2. Soursop Leaves Tea
  3. Roselle Leaves Tea
We will also produce other products in this category based on special bulk request.

Fruits and selected vegetables
Over the years, we have planted many types - over 40 types - and I have learnt a lot from it.  We will streamline this down to the following:
  1. Cabbage
  2. Kailan
  3. Choy sum (sawi)
  4. Spinach
  5. Long green beans
  6. French beans
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Pumpkin
  9. Mini cucumbers
  10. Corn
This will provide for a selection from leafy, to crunchy to fleshy and my favourites.  The area that we will use for planting them will also be streamlined.  We will also plant other vegetables but this will be in smaller quantity and mainly additional types of vegetables for my family.

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
For me, this is oil of choice from its numerous benefits to it creamy, nutty taste.  The coconut trees that we have planted years ago started to fruit last year and as it matures will provide us with the base ingredients although it will not be like the large, plantations.  We plan to start adding coconut trees, selecting the variety so that we can have good harvests of coconut in the years ahead.  We use permaculture cold-pressed method which is time-consuming but produces the purest form of the coconut oil.  The production of EVCO has some down-time so it works well in scheduling our task and activities.

For 2018, we are targeting producing 50 bottles a month.  By commercial standards, this is not much but we aim at ensuring quality production and become the regular supplier to our existing customers and gain new customers due to the quality and taste of our EVCO.  On the personal side, this is something that I can see myself doing as I age as it doesn't involve much physical activity but more on patience and attention to detail.

This year, our fish pond is undergoing a major renovation, to allow us to better manage our fish operations as well as providing for better environment for our fish.  We are building walls all along the pond which is shaped like a flowing river as well as sectioning it.  Experts has indicated that we can have at least 500,000 fishes at any one time but I highly doubt that is what we will do in 2018.  However, it does leave us with substantial growth capacity.  What is important for me is that we produce quality, "sweet" tasting fish without the nasty door often associated with fresh water fish. Over the years we have experimented with different feed, water conditions, pond maintenance and fish rearing practice and we have learnt a lot.  To date, we have received no complaints on our fish and many are surprised at the taste.  We do not introduce any waste products such as carcasses and chicken innards as feed to the fish and we will continue this policy.  I eat my fish and I certainly do not like muddy-taste, smelly fish.  I also like to choose the method of cooking from steaming to frying to roasting so the taste of fish is important.
By middle of this year, we will re-start our fish operations which means the earliest harvest will be in 2018.  The farm dogs play a role in our fish operations as they catch the monitor lizard (biawak) and the river otters (mermerang) which can cause substantial loss of the fish population.  The investment put in to build a wall around the property has also helped to reduce the invasion of the river otters.  We are working on minimising external dependence on feed.  Keeping the water flow optimum is important as with the in-flow of water, comes natural food in the form of small river fish and shrimps, which would provide the proteins.  At the same time, we feed them "greens".  Our choice of feed and constant water flow has definitely made an impact on the quality and taste of the fishes.

MyOrganic Certification
We are currently undergoing certification and hope to have the certification by 2018.  This will definitely be an achievement for us as well as a validation of our practice.

Fertilisers and Pest Control
We will continue to produce our fertilisers and pest control products which we use at the farm.  It will be made available for sale on request.  For me, it is important that I continue to have truly organic fertilisers that have not had the source materials be contaminated by chemical pesticides or herbicides.  It also serves as a way for me to recycle my organic wastes and I look forward to the addition of goat manure as an ingredient in my fertilisers.

Sales and marketing
I have always believed in selling directly to my customers but the toll of doing market every Sunday whilst still producing is getting harder.  As such, we will probably cease to do Sunday morning market in 2018 but focus more on "order selling".  I know it will probably be tough in the beginning as I build a customer list but the plan is to provide delivery to the customer door-step and delivery charges will be subject to minimum order and area of delivery.  We will set-up 2 days where we will do the delivery

I love hosting events and having people visit the farm so this is one area that we will still continue to do.  In shaa Allah, we will have an Open Farm Day focussing on selected plants and products in support of having your own garden as well as our fresh farm produce, and also Durian Fest where you can come and buy "original" durians and eat at the farm or bring it home and whatever other fruits and vegetables we have available for sale at that time.  A new event that I am thinking of doing a "Restaurant Pop-Up Day" to coincide with our fish harvest featuring our fish and vegetables and fruits, and drinks from the farm with a limited number of seats.    I love challenges and I think this "Restaurant Pop-Up" event will be one.

So, all in all, although 2018 is many months away, I am sure that time will seem to fly by.  However, having devised a plan and direction, it will help in us working our way through the rest of 2017.  Being agriculture-based, things need time to grow and produce many things need to be planned months or even years ahead :)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Jambu Madu: What I didn't know

Our beautiful Malaysian weather enables us to grow and produce lots of fruits and vegetables. Another of the fruits that is rich with benefits is the Jambu Madu.  I always felt that there was more to jambu madu (scientific name:  Syzygium samarangense) or the English name : Rose Apple, which is indigenous to the Malay Peninsula so I decided to research this fruit.  Lo and behold, it has many benefits.  At the farm, we have 2 trees which produces fruit in abundance about 3 times a year.  Hence I also wanted to know what to do with them and also how to get the most out of it.  Being a fruit with high water content, growing it organically is important to ensure it is not contaminated internally.

I most often consumed it raw, sometimes with a dip, and especially on hot days as I find that it has a cooling effect for me.  It has a water content ratio similar to the watermelon.
Based on various research studies, this fruit is found to have several benefits such as :

  1. the ability to detoxify the liver
  2. lower cholesterol
  3. protect against diabetes
  4. improve immune system
  5. prevent certain types of cancer ( early research indicates it helps prevents prostate and breast cancer)
  6. eliminate fungal and bacterial infections
  7. improves digestive system.
It is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.  I guess as more studies are done, there are bound to be more benefits.

The best time to pick them is when they have turned red and feels very firm.  At this point, the fruit is sweet and crispy such that when you bite into it, it is almost like biting into a juicy apple.  As with many tropical fruits, it doesn't have a long shelf life.  When purchasing them, check to see if they have been sprayed with preservatives.  An easy way is to ask when the fruit was delivered to the stand.  If it has been more than 2 days, chances are it has been sprayed with chemical preservatives and best to clean the fruit properly to remove the preservatives.

Having a high water content makes it a great option for people who juice, delivering lots of vitamin A and C.  Most often, it is consumed raw, with or without a dip.  With the short shelf life, I had to figure out what else I can do with them.  Apart from consuming them raw, I turned them into "ice cream", mixing it with Roselle or Bunga Telang for taste as well as adding other nutrients to a tasty, hot day, snack.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Open Farm Day 14 Apr 2017 - Post Mortem

At the end of every event we have, I will always hold a team meeting where we discuss the feedback from visitors and how the event went.  There were a few differences that we had this year compared with last year's event, most of it due to feedback from our visitors last year.  I find getting feedback is very important and our team meetings are useful to help us in improving.
Our first visitors for the day, also a regular customer at
our Sunday morning market stall
Our visitors visiting the farm.  At one of the sections.

Our food sales area.
Feedback 1 2016: Too bad you didn't have any food for sale
This year, we had a small menu consisting of chicken or fish with rice and a kerabu, durian ice cream, roselle and jambu madu ice cream, a section of drinks all based on our produce from our farm - soursop leaf tea, roselle juice drink, lemongrass and calamansi drink, roselle tea, calamansi and blue pea flower drink, and our only unsweetened drink - missy kucing tea.  We do not use white sugar in our drinks.  We also had 2 types of jellies: roselle jelly and jambu madu and blue pea flower jelly.

Our produce and products sales area
Feedback 2 2016: Difficult to see plants for sale and need to be labelled with variety and price clearly.
This year, we placed the plants for sale on racks and floor in one section, all clearly labelled with plant name and price.  Although we still had a couple of people wanting to take plants from my greenhouse especially the plants that I was doing my research on :).

Feedback 3 2016: Difficult to find the place as there wasn't any signages
We placed a sign indicating the farm name at the junction on the main road as well as at the farm gate.  I had also updated the "Pictorial Guide to Suria Helang Lui Farm" with the latest photos and posted on the event page which many found useful this year.

Feedback 1 2017: "How come the chicken wasn't soft?".
We had one person that complained "How come the chicken wasn't soft?".  As we had indicated prior to the event, the chicken was from our farm, organically reared "kampung" chicken which meant that it was organically reared, free from GMO feed, hormones and antibiotics, and free range.  These chickens are not like your hormone-chicken which are reared to be soft and fluffy.  The meat will be firm.  Judging by how the rest of the visitors that had it ate, it was not an issue that we will worry about.

One of the groups that I took around the
farm for a tour.  Really enjoyed the discussion
Feedback 2 2017: This farm is small.  How come you invite so many people?"
This to me is an interesting feedback from one person.  I have always indicated that I have a small farm of 2.5acres or slightly more than 1 hectare.  This is an event when I open to public for those interested in seeing what we do.  At any one point in time, there was around 50 people at the farm, which is not that many.  Visitors came and went throughout the whole morning and early afternoon.

Feedback 3 2017: The drink is sour, I don't like it.  I want a different one.
The same person who complained about the chicken complained about the soursop tea.  Maybe she didn't realise but soursop has a slightly sour taste - just the name should give an indication.  She just returned the half-consumed drink and took another one without paying for the second.  That's ok, we know we will encounter should people.  Maybe she thought that she was coming to farm that she can treat us farmers with this arrogant attitude which she wouldn't at an eatery in KL.

Feedback 4 2017: How come you don't have proper sitting areas for people to eat?
Enjoyed seeing this family enjoy the day out at the farm
with their children,  They found a spot they liked.
Again, this is a complaint from the same person.  We had indicated that what we prepared was packed lunch and people can choose to picnic anywhere on the farm.  We had a few tables situated in different areas where people can sit as well chair for people to sit.  She and her group finally sat in one area near the barbecue pit and pond to eat. Our other visitors had no problem and found places to enjoy their meal.

Feedback 5 2017: Why is your food ready so late?
I got this feedback at 9.45am.  We were preparing packed lunch so I wasn't expected a visitor to be irritated that it wasn't ready this early.  We had the food out at 10.15am so I guess we could call this a brunch.  Next time we have it, I will have to decide whether we will do brunch or lunch and repeat the announcement of the food a few times.

Feedback 6 2017: "I come so far, so you must get me what I want"
Not sure how we have to respond to this.  I had announced what we have for sale and available.

All in all, I consider the event went well as we had many positive responses from our visitors and they enjoyed the morning out at the farm, discussing issues they had with their gardens, seeing the animals and enjoying the food and drinks as well as the opportunity to buy farm-fresh organically grown fruits and vegetables as well as organic products.  Many also liked that they were able to see for themselves where the produce and products came from.

To the many that asked what is the next event?  The next one, inshaaAllah, will be the Durian Fest which will be organised around July 2017, in a different way from previous years based from the feedback and lessons we learnt from the previous years.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Amazing local tree - Coconut

Used to be you can find coconuts trees all over the place.  With development, there are less and less of these trees.  One of the main end-product from this tree is from the coconuts producing coconut oil.  It underwent decades of being labelled as "unhealthy" before researchers finally realised that it is actually healthy and provides a lot of benefits and does not contain trans fat but does contain the good saturated fats - the medium chain triglycerides.  So now, it is back in fashion.

There are many varieties of coconut trees and at the farm we plant 3 types: kelapa gading, kelapa udang and kelapa pandan.  I selected these three species based for different reasons.  The kelapa gading starts fruiting in about 4 years and at a height that is easy to harvest.  You can consume the young coconut wit its sweet coconut water or allow it to mature and it produces a sweet coconut oil.  The kelapa udang produces a larger size fruit hence I chose it for mature fruits for EVCO and cooking.  This tree grows tall and takes about 6-7 years before it starts to fruit.  The kelapa pandan was chosen for its sweet with pandan aroma coconut fruit and young flesh.  It is a "medium" height tree so it makes harvesting easy and starts to fruit in 4-5 years.  These trees are easy to take care of -if you have good soil, there is no need to fertilise and no need to water unless there is an extended drought season with the ground cracking.  At the farm, we have never had to water them.

Some of the benefits from this tree is:

  1. From the leaves, you can produce lidi which can be grouped together to create a brush-like broom - penyapu lidi.   The leaves are also used to weave a case for rice or glutinous rice in traditional Malay cuisine.
  2. From the coconut husk, you can use as an element in the fire when you want to smoke fish or barbecue.  It is also great to be turned into mulch or added to the compost pile.  
  3. The coconut shell can be turned into various utensils or containers.  
  4. The coconut flesh can be eaten raw from young coconuts or used for cooking, producing coconut milk or making oil in mature coconuts.  
  5. The leftover grated coconut after producing the coconut milk is great for feeding chickens.  I find that including the leftover grated coconut in the chicken feed helps to increase the egg-laying productivity of the hens.
  6. The by-product of producing EVCO (Extra Virgin Coconut Oil) contains beneficial microbes and is great for use as fertiliser. (Note: Difference between EVCO and VCO is EVCO is the production of the oil without the use of heat via permaculture method or other similar methods.)

So, if you have extra room, this is a great tree to plant and you can select the species you want based on what you like 😉

Sunday, 2 April 2017

VCO: Bringing lustre to life

Used to be you were told how bad coconut is for you and of course, that includes coconut oil.  Why, because it is rich in fats.  The tune now has changed with new research: Coconut oil is good for you.  So the current hot oil is Virgin Coconut Oil known as VCO for short.  Living in Malaysia, we are blessed with the ease of obtaining fresh coconuts, the only source material required to produce VCO.

At the farm, we grow our own coconuts so we are able to obtain organic VCO, which is important for me for what I want to use it for.  If you are not able to obtain organic coconuts but only have access to coconut milk, be sure that it is pure coconut milk without any preservatives or conditioners added.  So, it is best to get freshly grated coconut and process to produce your own coconut milk so you can be sure that is is pure without chemical additives or preservatives.
The method I use is called cold-pressed method.  You can search for the method easily and there are variations to it.  My first attempt to produce VCO wasn't too successful as I only managed to produce a small amount but I learnt a lot which lead me to a better second attempt.
There are so many uses for VCO which brings many benefits including:

  • In preparing meals and drinks
    • For cooking especially high heat cooking due to its high smoking point
    • Replacement for non-stick cooking spray
    • As a healthy replacement for creamer which lends a nice, creamy coconut taste to drinks life coffee.
    • Making mayonnaise
    • Making salad dressings
  • In skincare, 
    • as a moisturiser
    • to help reduce wrinkles and age spots
    • natural make-up remover especially for eye make-up with the added benefit of moisturising the eye area
  • In providing health benefits such as:
    1. increasing HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol
    2. strengthening the immunity system
    3. balances hormones
    4. balancing blood sugar
    5. improving digestion
    6. burns fats and boosts metabolism
  • In creating herbal oils
    • for use in haircare
    • for use in skincare
    • for massages
So what is VCO?  VCO is produced from fresh coconut (as opposed to copra or dried coconut) and does not contain any chemicals or additives and is the purest form of coconut oil.  It is water clear in color and has a mild, sweet coconut aroma.  It is made up of 90% saturated fat which was what led to the simplistic idea that it is bad for your heart when recent research have concluded the reverse, it is good for your heart.  VCO contains no trans fats which is what is now known as the "bad" fats.  Instead it is rich with medium-chain triglycerides (approximately 64%)  - the good fats and lauric acid.  Lauric acid is naturally in mother's milk which provides increasing the baby's immunity system by protecting the baby from virus and bacteria.  It is this property that makes it a popular alternative therapy for colds and flus.

The shelf life for VCO is approximately 18 months though mine doesn't last that long.  It solidifies at temperatures below 23 Celsius and is best stored away from direct sunlight, in a cool, dry, area so storing it in your cupboards will suffice.
Why does my VCO finishes fast?  I use it for the following:

  1. in cooking so that I can have the health benefits as well as a great taste (I prefer the taste to coconut oil many times over than olive oil)
  2. infused with different herbs for different purposes such as for mosquito repellent, hair oil, massage oil, moisturiser and make-up remover.  Always the herbs used are dried and I allow the infusion to occur for at least 1 week.

It is not difficult to make but requires attention to detail and is time-consuming.  By not exercising care, you can end up with a sourish-smell oil which is opaque as opposed to an oil that is clear as water with a sweet coconut aroma.  I am currently waiting for my pandan coconut to mature so that I can experiment making VCO with this coconut and I believe it will produce a spectacular oil.  Is it worth the effort?  To me, a definite yes