Here's a quick overview of everything you possibly need to know about the farm. You will get the low-down on how and why I do the things I do. If you have a question that is not in this list, do feel free to get in touch and I will try my best to respond accordingly. (Updated 19 April 2021).
- Where is your farm located?
The farm is located right across the Vitaton mineral water factory at Kampung Sompo, Jalan Setul Lenggeng, 71750, Negeri Sembilan; one of 13 states in the wet tropics of Malaysia with an average yearly rainfall of between 2000mm – 2500mm (peninsular).
- What is the size of your farm?
Officially, it’s 2 acres. Unofficially, the farm sits adjacent to another roughly 0.5 acres strip of unused reserved land. A portion of this is to be reforested as zone 5 while a larger part to cultivate animal fodder.
- What’s the terrain condition and layout of your farm?
The farm is roughly 70% hilly and 30% flat. Two individual lots of an acre each make up the farm in this failed homesteading development project from the late 90s. A narrow concrete road separates these two adjacent lots; which in some ways complicate their management.
- How does your farm get its water supply?
There are 5 small ponds at the farm; 2 of which are fed with an underground water source, another 2 are made of concrete, and the final pond is naturally lined with soil (which is leaky). In addition to the usual rainwater harvesting systems in place, the farm primarily draws its gravity-fed water from a constructed dam located about 800m away, with a potential second dam to be constructed just 500m away (in the future). Both these dams are located at a neighbouring oil palm plantation, which does not use chemicals.
- Who runs the farm?
I’m Melvin Tong, and I run this farm by myself under the most extreme conditions. I conceptualized, designed and implemented pretty much everything at the farm with the help of a friend during the early years. This venture is also in partnership with my wife. I had to tend to all planting and management works since 2019. It is only recently in early 2021, when I started engaging two foreign workers on a part time basis to help out.
- Are you doing this full time?
I would love to but unfortunately personal commitments back in the city do not permit that. However, given the slowing down of my regular business amidst the current pandemic and economic crisis, I would consider myself focusing 100% into running this farm. As I’m unable to permanently live at the farm, I have to make weekly commutes to the farm.
- Why are you doing this?
I have to survive. Passion for the natural outdoors aside, I have no other choice due to the economic situation worsened by the pandemic. I am in dire need of an income to sustain my family given the very difficult financial situation I’m in. This income has to be generated from the farm in the soonest possible time with strict adherence to the ethos of agroecological practices. The challenge remains: how best can this be done despite the odds I’m up against? Hence, even though I love what I do, natural farming is not something I can afford to dabble in. It is my lifeline.
- What are you currently doing at the farm?
Firstly, we are busy tending to the hundreds of chickens and ducks at the farm to maximize production of premium eggs for sale as a priority. This involves carving up the farm into designated grazing zones for the birds to free range. These zones will be fenced up in accordance to a rotational paddock system we use. Secondly, we are busy fine-tuning and increasing our production of BSFL as animal feed. Thirdly, we are also busy propagating sorghum, napier, papayas, bananas, mulberry, ketum ayam and indigofera in hopes of establishing our food supply for animals. Last but not least, we are also in the midst of designing and constructing a worker’s quarter and vermicomposting toilet.
- What have you already planted at the farm?
The farm has about more than thirty 20+ years old towering durian trees (a mixture of local hybrids and kampong varieties) and carambola trees. We have been focusing on the planting of perennial fruit trees (durians, duku langsat, mangosteen, mango, rambutan, pulasan, ciku, petai, ice cream beans, lime/lemons, etc) and fodder plants (moringa, napier, gliricidia, leucaena, indigofera, ketum ayam, mulberry, brazillian spinach, etc) for animals with limited planting of annual herbs and leafy vegetables due to lack of labour. Recently, we are beginning to propagate large numbers of papayas and bananas in anticipation for the rainy season this year-end, and perhaps, some low maintenance turmeric, ginger, sweet potatoes and pineapples. Short-term leafy vegetables will not be our focus for at least another year except for chillies and all forms of beans.
- What farm produce is already for sale right now?
Naturally-grown berangan bananas, naturally-raised chicken eggs and duck eggs, cassava leaves/tubers, kaffir lime leaves/fruits, calamansi limes, chillies, pea eggplant and lemon grass. Others in very limited supply: papayas, pineapples, passion fruit and paku pakis (edible fern).
- Why should I buy from you?
Because I’m a small-scale natural farmer in extremely bad financial shape where farming is my livelihood; I stand to lose everything if I don’t maintain a positive and trustworthy relationship with my discerning customers. Your support not only helps ensure my sustainable production of healthy, nutritious and naturally grown food; but also serves to uphold the uncompromising tenets of environmental conservation via regenerative soil-based farming. More importantly, your patronage is an affirmation of and ode to the spirit of a true underdog’s grit and tenacity in overcoming a sickly and oppressive system widely accepted as societal norms; a reciprocal performance art if you will.
- What’s the long-term plan and vision for your farm?
With only a limited 2-acres of space, I’m aiming to generate double the capacity of produce from my existing land space. That means achieving an equivalent 4-acres worth of produce from only a 2-acres space. That’s ambitious but not impossible with careful planning and stacking of related elements. I intend to generate farm produce for commercial sale and perhaps focus on specialty crops when labour permits. Primary farm produce for sale in the order of most important: Chicken and duck eggs first and secondly, their meat, followed by lamb meat, stingless bee honey, fruits, vegetables and fish. Additional source of secondary income subsequently would be from sale of BSFL feed, biochar and compost. Farm tours, permaculture programs and technical workshops are definitely in the works as part of my long-term eco/edu-tourism plan. I certainly hope the farm stands as a symbolic representation of grassroots struggle against adversity as the most extreme rural microfarm in Malaysia.
- What is your official stance on agriculture?
I’m upholding a strict adherence to the principles of natural and integrated farming without the use of chemicals, synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. We do not even buy commercial feed/pellets for our animals. All animal feed is 100% natural and not manufactured/formulated by factory/labs. Only heirloom and non-GMO seeds are planted. We even make our own probiotics and liquid fertilisers, on top of implementing integrated pest management strategies. We adopt the permaculture approach to farming and working with nature to achieve a zero waste design framework whereby all inputs and outputs from various elements (animals, plants, energies, etc) are recycled internally in a closed loop system. The idea is to build as many diverse but strong connections between elements to achieve a cohesive, healthy, balanced and sustainable ecosystem. Most importantly, we strongly advocate a microorganism-rich soil-based approach to regenerative farming as a means to counter climate change in sequestering carbon, while vehemently opposed to any forms of soilless, sterile and fertigation farming methods.
- What are the biggest challenge(s) faced by your farming endeavours?
If I have to choose one, financial resource remains my biggest hurdle to generating a sustainable income from the farm. It takes money to make money. Without an income, I’m unable to travel to the farm in the first place (toll, petrol, car wear and tear, etc, all cost money). Rising cost of living, a failing economic system and consumer aversion to premium-priced natural farm produce all contribute to affected revenue. Hence, the immediate challenge is to successfully build and service a niched market as my primary source of income.
- Can I volunteer to work at your farm?
Volunteers or WWOOFers are welcome, even though I’m pretty embarrass to have to put them through doing menial labour especially at this stage of farm development. There isn’t a proper flush toilet, cooking facility or accommodation for stay overs, unless one wishes to stay in a tent. Nevertheless, I would very much delay accepting any volunteers for now at least until Sep 2021.
- Can I visit your farm?
I’m considering only opening up for farm tours by Sep 2021. With the looming pandemic and increasing uncertainties surrounding Covid-19, all we could do is to wait and see, and definitely hope for the best.
- What are the facilities available at your farm?
Arborloo (10 sqf), chicken coop (1,440 sqf), duck coop (~400 sqf), goat/sheep house (1,066 sqf), outdoor kitchen (40 sqf) and a small cottage (180 sqf). In the works: worker’s quarters, vermicompost flush toilet and HQ.