Taking delight in urban farming during MCO

The Kangkar Pulai Kenari Flats community farming project recently bagged the first runner-up prize in this year’s Town and Country Planning Department Green Neighbourhood Award, thanks to the residents’ efforts.

JOHOR BARU: Urban farming is getting increasingly popular among residents here, with many turning to horticulture to pass their time especially during the pandemic.

Property developer Datuk Steve Chong Yoon On, who is Federation of Hakka Associations Malaysia president, found himself with a lot of time on his hands during the movement control order (MCO) in March and decided to do some gardening.

“Other than surfing the Internet, all of a sudden there was nothing much for me to do during the MCO as I could not go out for work and meetings.

“I did not want to be idle at home so I allotted a 1m by 10m space in the compound of my house and tried my hand at gardening to keep myself active and work up some sweat, ” the 65-year-old said in an interview.

After about seven months, his vegetable patch has grown bigger.

There are more than 20 types of fruits and vegetables growing in his garden including herbs, gourd, pumpkin, sacha inchi, brinjal, cucumber, tomato and corn.

Chong showing the fresh produce harvested from his garden.Chong showing the fresh produce harvested from his garden.

“Gardening might look easy to some but there is actually a lot to learn and grasp such as the direction of the sun, soil quality, weeding, and pest control. Each plant requires different treatment.

“I find joy in observing and learning the characteristics of each seed while it grows day by day, as the harvest period for each fruit and vegetable varies.

“I try not to harm the environment with my cultivation so I learnt to make organic fertiliser and pesticide from the Internet using natural ingredients, ” he said.

Chong added that through gardening, he discovered that his health has improved too, compared to when he started.

“Before this, I felt tired after squatting down for less than 10 minutes and now, I can withstand more than four hours of farm work under the sun and even longer on weekends.

“Honestly, I did not expect that such a simple act could give me so much inspiration.

“It even taught me about how we really do reap what we sow, ” he said, adding that cultivation also taught him not to give up easily.

With his new-found love for gardening, Chong also plans to acquire 2ha of land soon to promote urban farming through classes and workshops so that the public can bring along their children and enjoy being close to nature, besides fostering better family ties.

“When my association was invited to Ganzhou, China last year, we visited an urban farming project with a similar model and I think this can be implemented in Johor Baru, ” he added.

Meanwhile in Taman Universiti, the Kangkar Pulai Kenari Flats community farming project recently bagged the first runner-up award in this year’s Town and Country Planning Department (PLANMalaysia) Green Neighbourhood Award.

The residents’ committee member Rosnah Rahmat said the flats 600-odd residents were grateful for the award in the high-rise category as it was a recognition of their efforts to keep the area green and vibrant.

She said the community farming project situated near Block A1, which began in December last year, started gaining support from the residents especially during the MCO.

“This was initially a bushy area but with the help of residents, we turned it into a beautiful garden with a variety of flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs such as banana, papaya, turmeric, ginger, ladies fingers, spinach, ulam (edible flora) and chilli.

“The residents are free to pick whatever produce they want from the garden, which is an added convenience for the families staying here.

“The best part about this is seeing the residents coming together and the strong community spirit that we built through this farming initiative, ” she added.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) School of Education senior lecturer Dr Nurhusna Abdul Wahid, who specialises in agriculture education, said that urban farming is a good example of a community-based initiative.

Community farming has many benefits, she said, including caring for the environment and bringing the community together for a common goal, which in turn builds stronger relations among the people.

“The main elements of community farming is to firstly produce a food source for the locals and also sustainability such as cutting down waste and reusing animal waste as fertiliser.

“When those two things are done well, then only will the community be advised to look at the economic aspect of whether to sell the harvest or to commercialise the products, ” she said.

The brinjals in Chong’s garden.The brinjals in Chong’s garden.

Nurhusna said interested individuals do not actually need a large area for gardening.

“They can just start small because with the right tools and knowledge, one can successfully grow a vegetable patch or a mini garden.

“Even recycled car tyres and bricks can be used as a vessel to grow flowers and vegetables, we just have to get creative.

“There are also techniques such as the commonly used hydroponic and aquaponic, which can make farming much more fun, ” she said.

She added that UTM is willing to engage with the community and provide support in terms of expertise, knowledge and resources in this aspect, as it could also help in reducing carbon footprint.

She said her team of students and lecturers were actively engaging with the surrounding communities in the matter through UTM’s service learning programme, by providing ideas and suggestions to improve what they have already done.

Other than that, Nurhusna added that they previously donated seedlings, equipment and fertiliser to the community to further help them in their community farming efforts.

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