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Are You Sure It’s Organic?

Organic Farming

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

We’re all familiar with this supermarket scene of glistening red tomatoes, thick smooth-skinned carrots, big blooming cabbages with nary a mark on them, huge bunches of perfect greens and a host of other vegetables beckoning buyers from their shelves at affordable prices.

In stark contrast, move to the organic section or any organic shop and the produce is usually smaller, some are pockmarked, the cauliflower are tiny, as are the beets and the carrots, some leafy greens may have holes in them and god forbid, there may even be a creepy-crawly or two still clinging to the leaves when we put them in the sink to wash. And they all cost more by comparison.

So why would one pay more for seemingly unattractive produce? For the nutrients and the lack of pesticide residue, that’s why.

Celery, greens like spinach, Bak Choy, Choi Sum, cucumbers, lettuce, sweet capsicums, zucchini and corn are particularly notorious for pesticide residues, as are a whole host of fruits, grains and other vegetables.

Health Risks from Pesticides

There are over 3000 pesticides approved for use in Malaysia with 190 of these tested for allowable residues in food (Sixteenth Schedule on Regulation 41). They all present different risks: some are linked with cancer, while others can cause birth defects or harm the nervous system. Some pesticides – including organophosphates commonly used on crops – are what are known as endocrine disruptors, which means that they affect the body’s highly sensitive endocrine (hormone) system. There’s good reason to be concerned about this: the body uses hormones to coordinate just about everything – cell growth, appetite and metabolism, among other things.

Organic Practices

Farmers who grow organic produce don’t use conventional methods to fertilize and control weeds. Examples of organic farming practices include using natural fertilizers to feed soil and plants, and using crop rotation or mulch to manage weeds. Hence organic produce may look insipid and have a few holes in the leaves and yes, even the occasional worm or two, but worms are easily washed off and the holes they may have created with their nibbling do no harm.

Of course, some sceptics are prone to doubting the authenticity of organic produce and may cynically dismiss it all as a scam to charge higher prices. Certification with no proper enforcement appears futile and most organic farms in Malaysia are not certified so it is up to the organic farmer to establish a reputation of credibility.

Organic Produce at Meru Valley Resort

When Meru Valley Resort opened the Terrace Grocery & Cafe at the clubhouse I was delighted to find that they stock organic produce which are delivered twice a week from Cameron Highlands. This meant that I no longer had to traipse into town to buy my organic produce. But doubts about their organic authenticity amongst some of the residents prompted me to take a trip up to Cameron’s to verify for myself and to see the actual conditions of this particular farm known as Hatiku Agricultur Sdn Bhd. All my doubts and questions about organic farming could all be answered, I thought to myself.

Hatiku Agricultur

So a group of us set off one fine day for that trip up to Cameron Highlands. Arriving at Hatiku Agricultur I could barely make it up the dirt path that led up to the farm but fortunately help was at hand when owner/farmer Fung Chee Siang came down in his old truck to fetch me.

Arriving at the top where the farm was situated, my first burning question was answered. “How do you prevent runoff and seepage of water contaminated by other non-organic farms in your vicinity?” At Hatiku Agricultur there was none as it was situated at the top of its own hill and there is no other farm above it or next to it. In fact, it sits in isolated splendour with uncontaminated soil which is fertilised with its own ‘home-grown’ compost free from hormones or antibiotics and crop rotation ensures that the soil is replenished with every harvest and new planting. Its eagle’s nest position also ensures that no pesticide or herbicide sprays get carried by the wind to the crops.

Embracing Nature

“When you embrace nature, nature embraces you. Pests are part of nature and we must learn to live with them. The more you fight, the more they come. If we kill them we kill ourselves. We want to cultivate the land but actually it’s the land that is cultivating us,” said Chee Siang during our walk through his farm as he proudly showed us one Chayote growing side by side with a beautiful pumpkin.

Slicing into the Chayote, he offered us a bite saying, “with organic produce like this, you can eat them raw and it’s as good a substitute as any for cucumber”. And he was right. Where before I was dubious about biting into it, after, I was hooked. It was sweet and crunchy and better than any cucumber I have ever eaten.

“Farmers worry about snails and pests and use pesticides heavily to kill them. In my case, I say, lets share the bounty of nature. See my cabbages? You see how the outer leaves are all eaten through? I let the snails eat that. Then I harvest the sweet inner core. So my cabbages are smaller but the health benefits and taste are large,” he enthused.

Hatiku only delivers produce to two locations in Ipoh, the cafe in Meru Valley Resort and another organic shop in Pasir Puteh. The rest of his production is sold in Penang, Melaka, and especially in Singapore where his Heirloom produce (grown from seeds which have been handed down for generations) go exclusively to some select restaurants as part of a farm to table project to cut down on the carbon footprint.

All of Hatiku’s produce are grown from Heirloom seeds with no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). At the Meru shop, there is a total of 90 different items being sold at different times depending on the harvest and the crop rotation. I have purchased vegetables I have never tasted before thanks to the Heirloom seeds and I can vouch for the freshness and taste of the produce. So even if they don’t look like the plastic perfection of what you find in the supermarkets, give organic produce a chance. Your body will thank you for it.

 

Hatiku Agricultur Sdn Bhd
Fung Chee Siang
Tel: 019 278 5797
Email: fungs58@gmail.com
 
Terrace Grocery & Cafe
Fresh produce is delivered on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Available all week.  Tel: 05 529 3319
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See Foon

SeeFoon Chan-Koppen has been writing a food column called Musings on Food in the Ipoh Echo since 2009. It is widely read both in print as well as online which receives more than 1 million hits a month. Her forte is in communications, having honed her skills after graduating from the University of Singapore where she worked for the Straits Times Group and was a food critic for the New Nation. Her knowledge of food and cooking come from more than 30 years in the hotel industry based in Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong and subsequently Kuala Lumpur. During this time, she has travelled all over the world and eaten at the best and worst restaurants. She is totally intimate with the subtleties and nuances of most cuisines of the world having been involved in opening over 50 hotels throughout the Asia/Pacific region and China where she helped to conceptualize Food and Beverage themes and critiqued on food quality. SeeFoon calls herself a global citizen and now chooses the serenity and friendliness of Ipoh to the bright lights of the many cities she has lived in. She also loves the food in Ipoh and is passionate about telling the world about it.

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