PETALING JAYA: A tragic accident five years ago left Dr Billy Tang paralysed below the waist but it did not break him.
With the support of his family, he strove on and is now dedicating his life to his passion – urban farming, which made him an icon in feeding the poor and helping the disabled community at his social enterprise – PWD Smart FarmAbility. (PWD means Person With Disability.)
Tang, 54, who has been an agriculturist and researcher for over 20 years, kept busy looking into sustainable ways to help the poor to put food on the table without compromising freshness and nutrients.
Recently, he introduced the Hope Box project, where self-sustainable organic vegetable terrariums were offered up for adoption or sale to ensure beneficiaries get to eat fresh and healthy greens.
“Our organic vegetable terrariums act as a fresh food bank to harvest fresh, organic, nutritious and unrefrigerated vegetables in their homes and directly tackling the logistics issue of making fresh food available to the poor.
“The terrarium also inculcates a long lost food literacy and knowledge that our food and health comes from the soil, ” he said in an interview.
Now available with red watercress, Brazilian spinach and sweet leaf, Tang said research was under way to acclimatise a few more varieties, including herbal plants.
“Our selection process is stringent as only highly nutritious and fast-growing vegetables are chosen.
“They also must be regenerative after each harvest to enable beneficiaries to enjoy our terrarium grown vegetables every other day.
“Ideally, we will have six varieties ready by this year, ” he said.
With scientific application towards how the microbes and microorganisms work, Tang said the terrarium was designed to stay regenerative for at least three months by placing it under the sun.
“We will water it weekly. It’s all natural with no fertilisers, ” he said.
Each Hope Box can be adopted for RM150 and replenished after three months at Tang’s 200sq ft smart farm in Subang Jaya.
All proceeds go towards the salary of the workers, who are all PWD.
Currently, Tang said his lean startup team was working diligently to meet the adoption of 500 terrariums by a company and a foundation on top of other orders.
“We have been working with Sungai Buloh Hospital and Rotary Club of Bukit Angkasa to identify disabled patients who meet the requirements to receive our terrariums.
“We are also working closely with Daily Bread Food Bank on the Fresh Foodbank initiative to subsidise food items monthly to over 200 families, ” he said.
Tang said although the Covid-19 pandemic has affected his plans of hiring more PWD, it gave him and his team a chance to rethink their model.
“Agriculture is no longer about farming but feeding.
“To decentralise food production and multiply our social impact, we plan to set up mini satellite terrarium production hubs in centres with an established network of PWD.
“With this new plan, we have more people to help in scaling up the production, ” he said.
Recently, Tang’s social enterprise also embarked on the Feeding Without Borders project, supplying underprivileged families fresh giant red tilapia fishes grown in an outdoor aquaponics farm.
“The farm uses no antibiotics. The fishes can weigh up to 2kg with our technology that reduces the ammonia levels and increases oxygen levels in the water, ” he said, adding that the fish adoption project was mooted during the movement control order in March.
To date, Tang said over 1,000 fishes have been adopted by donors from Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, Cambodia and the Philippines.
“We are looking for collaborations to help more underprivileged communities around the country.
“We have at least 500 terrariums to be given out to needy communities, ” he said.
For their efforts, PWD Smart FarmAbility is recognised as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2020, an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes.
PWD Smart FarmAbility is also one of the two Gamuda Inspiration Award winners, which came with a grant of RM50,000.
Tang said he would use the grant to set up satellite terrarium production hubs to empower the underprivileged community.
“We will have sufficient funds to start two new projects – the satellite terrarium production hubs and the tilapia ice-cream project.
“We will incorporate our organically grown tilapias as the key ingredients through a joint venture, ” he said.
Tang said he was overwhelmed and humbled with the recognition and would like to express his gratitude to Yayasan Gamuda and Star Foundation for the awards.
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