KUALA LUMPUR: Lim Khim Joe remembers sitting on her father’s motorcycle on the way to school as a teenager in Penang, with the trees providing a cool shade.
Over time, however, she noticed that her rides to school became hotter as buildings from various development projects started cropping up in place of the foliage.
“I didn’t feel sad at the time. It was just something I observed – how the little patches of garden near my house were taken over by development projects,” said the 31-year-old in an interview.
It was when she pursued landscape architecture in Universiti Putra Malaysia that her love for nature began to take root.
“I had the opportunity to attend a permaculture design course, which taught me how to design a farm holistically and treat it like a living organism.
“We were taught to be sensitive enough to learn from the land, to communicate and see what it needed instead of imposing our needs on it,” she said.
Lim now manages Kebun-Kebun Bangsar, a 3.2ha community garden in Kuala Lumpur, and has also founded the Children of Soil enterprise, where she conducts classes on how to build sustainable foodscapes.
Kebun-Kebun Bangsar was originally set up by a team of volunteers led by landscape architect Ng Sek San. The goal of the initiative is to bring people together and help them connect with nature.
Ironically, the project was met with a lot of opposition by residents when it was first proposed due to concerns about land erosion.
“Every time we want to do something new, there will be strong resistance from the people because they don’t know what to expect. People just want to live in their comfort zone.
“But for us, the land is idle. So why don’t we open it up to share? It’s a nice place and it’s good for bonding as well,” Lim said, adding that people staying in condominiums in cities had nowhere to truly enjoy greenery.
After numerous meetings with Kuala Lumpur City Hall and Tenaga Nasional Berhad, the project finally took off four years later, with a large grant from the Think City organisation.
Nearly a year on, the initiative is flourishing with various groups of people coming in to work on the land and learning how to garden there.
According to Lim, the public can take the produce grown there or it can be given to non-governmental organisations or charitable bodies.
Although she admits that funding and volunteer work for the project can be inconsistent, she believes the fruits of such a venture will be reaped soon.
“Urban folks are getting more stressed and I believe this is due to the loss of their connection to nature.
“One of our intentions is to encourage people to get closer to nature, even if they live in the city.
“I am optimistic about the positive effects of gardening so that they will at least know how to grow their own food,” Lim said.