IT WAS not that long ago when Tony Yong and Emil Jihad, business partners in the food and beverage industry, made the decision to further work together on an urban farming project in Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya.
Their first venture was on the rooftop of One Utama Shopping Centre. It was subsequently relocated to an area in between the Avanté Hotel and Shell petrol station in Bandar Utama called Utama Farm.
At the opening of Utama Farm, the guests of honour were Petaling Jaya mayor Mohamad Azhan Md Azmir, Bandar Utama assemblyman Jamaliah Jamaluddin, and Bandar Utama City Corporation Sdn Bhd director Tan Sri Teo Chiang Kok.
Jamaliah, who is passionate about the lifestyle and general health of the community, said: “The kebun (farming) community helps increase the quality of life and teaches people how urban farming is conducted.
“They can try growing vegetables in their backyard and eat healthy. Utama Farm is a good example, as it integrates farming with recreation in an ecological environment that suits the family and community.
“Family and community bonding aside, sustainable living should be encouraged, as demonstrated at Utama Farm,” she said.
Mohamad Azhan said urban farming was a very good concept and was in accordance with the initiatives of Petaling Jaya.
“There are several kebun communities in Petaling Jaya, but what differentiates Utama Farm from the rest is that its vegetables are pesticide-free. It’s a good concept that should be practiced and adopted in rural areas,” he said.
Yong said it was fortuitous that Urban Farm started.
“Bandar Utama Properties agreed to rent the empty land and had urban farming in mind, and we were ready to embark on the journey,” he said.
The 0.65ha land at Utama Farm was previously used to manage excess rainwater around Bandar Utama.
The landowner constructed detention ponds that are now used for closed-loop farming and converted into fish ponds.
Utama Farm grows pesticide-free vegetables through hydroponic nutrient film technique (NFT) technology, aquaponic systems, and soil-based farming.
Closed-loop farming reduces dependency on external resources, minimises waste and creates more sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural practices.
Water from the fish ponds is used to water the crops, and no water leaves the farm. All organic waste from the farm and restaurants is used for composting.
The farm grows more than a dozen types of vegetables that are available for sale, including siew bak choy, choi sam and kailan.
The farm’s vegetables are not mass produced, as they are grown for the restaurants on-site and for the local community.
The local consumption of vegetables grown on-site means the carbon footprint associated with transportation between farms and markets, is almost eliminated.
Utama Farm is unlike other farms. Its main objective is to promote public awareness on sustainable farming and encourage clean and healthy eating.
The non-use of pesticides is self-evident in the combined farming of fish and vegetables at Utama Farm. Fish and prawns will not survive even if a small amount of pesticide is used.
Utama Farm also offers prawning and fishing as recreational activities that are gaining popularity.
The farm’s kitchen is available for use for a token fee. If preferred, the prawns can be used for steamboat meals.
Farm vegetables can be picked fresh and used for meals. Customers can also select their live fish.
As part of its objective to popularise urban farming, Utama Farm hosts tours and events. Recent visitors included Maybank, KPMG, Grab, Givaudan, Traveloka, ATV Malaysia and Persatuan Siswazah Wanita.
Some visitors come for prawning and a steamboat dinner while some want to learn about sustainable farming. Others have held private yoga sessions and off-site meetings at the farm.
Utama Farm is also open for workshops, team-building, birthday parties and other activities promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Another new component at Utama Farm is Banana Island. It is a soil-based aquaponic system that uses the nutrient-rich water from the fish and prawn ponds to self-irrigate the crop.
It is similar to the “Chinampas” – possibly the world’s first aquaponic system, pioneered by the Aztecs as far back as 1150 AD.
Yong said urban farming might be a good way to attain truly sustainable farming but it was not a mass production centre that needed to transport the produce to a faraway market.
“We encourage the reduction of our carbon footprint via consumption of locally produced food.
“We would like to encourage the community to be mindful of eating well and be aware of eco-sustainability by reducing the purchase of produce that is being transported from afar.
“We now have a farm where local residents can choose to buy local produce and contribute to achieving eco-environmental goals together,” he said.
Utama Farm is open from noon to 1am for prawning at RM35 per hour (price reduces with longer stays). The restaurants are open from noon to 11pm.
The Kopitiam serves a wide variety of local favourites (the cendol is a must-try).
Utama Steamboat and Seafood Restaurant mostly uses fresh and live ingredients from the farm.
The fish are either farmed on-site or on the balconies of the adjacent Menara 1 Powerhouse, which won the prize for best commercial building (mixed development) at the recent GreenRE Sustainable Development Awards for 2022 and 2023.
For details, call Azri at 011-5137 4407.