City slickers find joy in running an organic farm

  • Living
  • Sunday, 20 Apr 2014

Healthy produce: Mangoes are among the fruits and vegetables grown on the organic farm of David Mak (left) and Mohd Arafat Sharipudin.

Earth Day, Earth Warriors: Two friends have given up the bright lights of the big city and gone into the business of growing organic greens.

Growing up in all of his 28 years as an urban boy, Mohd Arafat Sharipudin now shuns the bright lights that is Kuala Lumpur for the simple joys of life on a farm. He is now happiest when sowing and toiling the earth for organically-planted fruit trees and vegetables on 4ha of agriculture land located in the coastal town of Kuala Selangor in Selangor, near Kampung Kuantan that is famous for its fireflies.

The place is his sanctuary to escape the city’s hustle and maddening traffic. He says the daily rush in the city and hectic corporate workings are no more appealing to him. “It didn’t make me grow better as a person, and it was a condition which I no longer wanted to be in. This got me searching for an alternative lifestyle. I started reading and all ended up relating ‘alternative living’ to sustainable practices and organic farming concepts.

“This was how I got into organic farming, together with my partner David Mak, who happens to be my property agent. We scoured around for suitable land and found this one, where the owner had the same vision as us to turn it into something agriculturally-viable. We agreed to share the profits from the farm,” explains the former IT officer.

At the entrance of the farm called Kebun Kaki Bukit, a delightful green mass of cultivated crops greet visitors. The farm feels refreshingly raw and down-to-earth. Cargo containers are used as living quarters for Mohd Arafat and farm volunteers.

The farm is still a work-in-progress, as volunteers go about finishing building tasks and the daily farming activities. They moved in last January and built everything from scratch. It’s evident that a lot of work has gone into transforming the land from its barren, neglected condition to the productive farm it is today.

Mohd Arafat says all the crops now are 100% organic through the use of natural inputs such as effective microbes and farm-made compost, and natural pesticides made from ginger and neem. He is working towards an organic certification from the Agriculture Department, a process that will take two years.

“During my travels to places like India and Sri Lanka, I got to visit many organic farms and was inspired to apply as much as possible the things I learnt from the farmers and their natural farming methods. Our mission is to make this a truly earth-friendly, working-cum-demonstration farm whereby visitors can learn, exchange ideas or volunteer,” says Mohd Arafat.

Some of the produce such as calamansi, lemon, lime and sugarcane are sold at the Selayang wholesale market at low prices. Mak, 43, says they have no reason to sell at high prices as the cost of production is low. “Our crops are essentially fertilised with composted food waste, which costs almost nothing, so it makes sense that we only sell a whole kilogramme of our calamansi at just RM2,” he says.

“Thanks to the volunteer programme we have, our labour cost is reduced. Having volunteers is also advantageous ... they will come up with sustainable solutions when we encounter problems, so the information flow is a two-way traffic which benefits both parties. The only issue we have right now is the marketing aspect of the produce, which we have a lot of, but sales have not reached a satisfactory level. Also, both of us are tied up with the farm operations, leaving us with little time to transport our fruits to the market.”

Mak derives much of his passion from his father’s family who are in the agriculture line, but he is not in favour of the conventional farming which they practise.

“For one, the work involved is back-breaking, unlike organic farming that harnesses the use of natural elements like earthworms to regulate the soil. To be a fully organic farm, there has to be crop rotation and polyculture (planting multiple crops in the same space). As my knowledge is in soil, I’m always looking at the kind of soil mixture to optimise yields, to resolve problems like poor drainage as clay is the original soil here. I’m also always sourcing for waste from different places to be used for our compost.”

Mak says the name Kebun Kaki Bukit was given to a farm which he used to operate at the foot of the Jugra Hill in Banting, Selangor.

What caught my eye at the farm are the basic outdoor showers and the toilet constructed with scrap wood for the frame and palm leaves for the walls. Excrement is collected in a bucket for use in composting. Ash and dry leaves are added to minimise odours. This essentially completes the cycle: food goes into your body, comes out as excrement, and is used to grow food.

Mohd Arafat says organic farming has taught him that it is possible to live simply and sustainably, as nature provides enough for mankind. “It has opened my eyes to the abundance of things around us, if we only knew how to use them.”

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