We recently spent a few days at Serukam Farm. It is located in northern Malaysia, in a village within Sungai Petani. Xin and Fred started the farm about 2.5 years ago on a 2-acre piece of land that Xin’s grand-uncle and grand-auntie live on.
We first heard about this place from our good friend Will from FOLO Farms. Serukam Farm wasn’t just an organic farm, but a homestead. Over there, they live on the land. They grow food small-scale and organically; firstly for themselves and selling only if there is excess. While organic farms are getting more common in Malaysia, it is still rare to see people that view farming as a lifestyle rather than a business.
We have stayed at many farms before but this was our first time since having a baby! Luckily Xin was more than accommodating and gave us the nicest room – the only loft in the family house. She said that there’s no point farming if the farm can’t cater to a baby. Continue reading
A while back, I posted about my visit to a place in Johor Malaysia where treehouses sit in the canopy of the rainforest. A few months later, I went back to help Ah Yao (founder of Rainforest Treehouse), Salim and Wira, two Orang Asli (literally “original people” in Malay language), build another treehouse. The four photos below show from start (left) to almost finish (right).
The frame done.
The roof done!
The floors done.
The eaves done.
The wall not done.
Siang Yu is a friend and fellow farmer at Edible Garden City. She is also an environmentalist and translator. She is currently on a sabbatical in Indonesia. People find it funny that we full-time urban farmers choose to go to farms during leave from work. Here is the first guest post about her trip…
Earlier in January, I went to Yogyakarta because I had heard that permaculture was gaining traction there and I wanted to see it for myself. Thomas and my colleague Imran briefly mentioned Bumi Langit to me once, and I thought it would be a good idea to visit them. Bumit Langit is founded by Iskandar Waworuntu in 2006. He had started a farm in Bali prior to this and I later learned from someone else I met while travelling that Pak Iskandar went to Sumatra to learn about farming. They were a little difficult to contact – I emailed them 2 weeks before I left for Jogja, but never got a reply. So I decided to wing it and found a driver when I arrived in Jogja who could take me and my friend Adiel to Bumi Langit in Imogiri directly.
At Bumi Langit, we met Mas Salas, the person-in-charge of the warung (shop/eatery), when we decided to have dinner there. After learning that I was interested in permaculture and was keen to volunteer with them, Mas Salas sat down with us and we had a very long and engaging chat about permaculture beyond agriculture – permaculture as a lifestyle. It was meeting a kindred spirit. We spoke about capitalism, the pharmaceutical industry and the poison that is television (and Indomie haha). He emphasised the importance of differentiating between human need and human greed. We could choose to fill our lives with junk that we are told we need or we could critically decide for ourselves what the things we truly need are. Rooted in the principles of Islam, Mas Salas said, “Whether we go to heaven after we die, that is decided by God. Why don’t you make your own heaven while you are alive?”
A treehouse that can sleep a dozen adults!
We tend to think of a treehouse as something for kids to hide in and spend a lazy afternoon reading. Do you know that there are traditional people who spend their entire lives staying in treehouses? We visited a place in southern Malaysia with treehouses for adults (and kids alike). It is located at the foot of the mountain Gunung Pulai.
Previously, I wrote about the traditional Malay houses of Malaysia. They are typically constructed with wood and built on stilts with pitched roofs. Contrary to the simple aesthetics, the house is highly sophisticated and designed to handle the climate of the humid tropics to keep inhabitants as comfortable as possible without the need for energy-consuming technologies like air-con.
Treehouses have existed in Malaysia for a long time as well, probably even way before the traditional Malay houses. They are the traditional houses of the Orang Asli (literally “original people” in Malay language). The Orang Asli are hunter-gatherers and reside in the rainforests of Malaysia. They can put together a treehouse with nothing more than a parang (machete), a saw, a hammer and some nails. The materials (wood, bamboo, and palm fronds) are all taken from the forest. Continue reading
There are many organic farms in Malaysia, but I have been searching for one that is not growing commercially to sell to the market. I am more interested to see subsistence agriculture rather than market-oriented agriculture. Subsistence agriculture is when the farmer grows to feed the family and sell the produce only if there is excess. There is a big difference between both. Permaculture Perak is one of the few that I found. It is located in the state of Perak in northern Malaysia, a short drive from charming Lenggong town. To access the land, you would most likely need a 4-wheel drive because of the steep uphill climb into 500m altitude.
Approaching the main house, with a fruiting durian tree beside it!
Ladia and Amy live on the land with their two year old daughter and newborn son. Their neighbours are gibbons, wild boars, snakes, scorpions, and every once in a while an elephant who ransacks the kitchen for soy sauce. The only human neighbours are far away, down in the town of Lenggong. Continue reading
The last stop during our Chiangmai trip was a 10-acre piece of land about an hour southwest of Chiangmai in the village of Maemut. To get there, we rode along the beautiful valley into the mountains, leaving the urban areas behind us. We saw a motorbike crash right in front of us which really reminded us of the dangers lurking behind the enjoyment. We passed by some touristy venues like river rafting and elephant riding without stopping.
The family house in the middle of everything
A young family lives at Maemut Garden. Marco is a humble Italian who speaks Thai. Nok is the reason Marco turned his short Chiangmai trip into a permanent stay. They have a two year old baby daughter Serena who entertains us with her budding talent in traditional Thai dancing. Pi Hom is a Thai lady that helps out with everything and made the farm what it is today. Other than these permanent occupants, there are also people staying for different durations. Long-term renters for over a year, home-stayers for a few days, and volunteers for a few weeks. Continue reading
During our stay at Maejo Baandin in Chiangmai, we met a couple who have been staying there for a while. Po is from Bangkok and Shiran is from Israel. They are both musicians and met in India when they were there studying classical Indian music. They have a small white dog that they adopted from the streets.
The entrance from the main road
They had recently bought a piece of land around Maejo village to – as Po puts it – retire on. Po was a music producer and had been in the music industry in Bangkok since he was a university student. He eventually became very jaded of the superficiality and commercial aspect of the industry that he moved to a remote island in Thailand. He has traveled around quite a bit and was even a forest monk for a year. Po might seem very old from my description but he is only in his early 30s. He laughs readily and his humour is eccentric. When offered an ice-cream by a young boy, he exclaimed: “No I can’t eat that, I’m a rockstar! Continue reading
After leaving Mindful Farm on the second day of 2015, we once again hopped on to our neglected motorcycle and went on the road. After taking a few wrong turns, getting lost, and asking around, we finally got to our next destination – Maejo Baandin. Maejo is the name of the village, “baan” means home in Thai, and “din” is earth. Not surprisingly, we were greeted by many beautiful mud structures in the premise.
Found the entrance at last!
Maejo village is a remote village located 2 hours drive North of Chiangmai city. In this village within walking distance to one another, there are three places that promote sustainable living – Maejo Baandin, Pun Pun, and Panya Project. Pun Pun promotes mud building and seed saving for self-reliance. Panya Project is a community of volunteers and they regularly teach permaculture courses. Continue reading
A sanctuary to calm the monkey mind
I ended year 2014 and stepped into 2015 at a farm a few hours northwest of Chiang Mai city in Thailand. From the name Mindful Farm, you can probably guess that it focuses on mindfulness and meditation. The farm was started by a former monk Pi Nan (literally meaning ex-monk) and his Japanese wife Noriko about 2 years ago. They have a baby girl Nobara who is very calm compared to most city kids that grew up with the ipad. Continue reading
It’s one thing reading about permaculture on the internet and another learning in-person from an experienced practitioner. I was lucky to spend 10 days over the 2014 New Year holidays with Sandot from Tacomepai Farm in Thailand. Sandot was traveling in Malaysia to help a friend design and build a permaculture farm called the Green Forest Project at the foot of Genting Highlands. The objective of the Green Forest Project is to be a healing center for cancer patients and permaculture educational centre. Sited in a valley within beautiful forests, the founder Sharley envisions the 3 acre land to be secluded from the outside world. Food will be grown organically and served to the cancer patients who will live very close to nature in simple huts. Continue reading