What is an organic farm like, biodynamic ones to boot? Let’s find out more with our trail this time to Centainnel Agriculture!
Located at Siputeh (a small town a little beyond Batu Gajah), the two-acre wide farm has been operated by 45-year-old Tung Siew Hoe, more affectionately known as Ah Niao, for nearly five years.
Ah Niao briefly worked as an engineer after graduating from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang in 1999. He came back to Ipoh to help out with his family business for a few years before discovering organic farming.
Asked what inspired the Ipoh-born to start an organic farm, he explained, “It all started a few years ago, when I realised how wasteful it is to just throw unfinished food away. Besides that, stray animals would make a mess trying to search for leftovers among the trash left outside my house.
“I started digging into the soil at my house to bury the leftover foods, leaving not a trace around the house,” Ah Niao added. “Little did I know, my actions made the soil very fertile! I remember planting something and the flowers bloomed beautifully.”
Researching more into this, he ventured into biodynamic farming. Explaining what the term meant, Ah Niao described biodynamic agriculture as an all-natural form of farming, which involves reusing and recycling of organic matter.
“Instead of using chemically derived substances to fertilise the land, we produce compost by utilising unused or inedible organic matter, such as grasses and deformed fruits. Also, cow dung is used in the process, which takes roughly two months.
“Another two months are used to fertilise the land using natural compost. The soil is like a bank account; if you want to use it, you must first accumulate enough assets to yield more produce,” Ah Niao said.
He also added that biodynamic farming paves the way to a sustainable agriculture.
“Apart from that, the compost I use for the farm contains non-water soluble elements. Plants absorb sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to produce plant food and sugar during the day, but once the sun sets, plants are inactive. Thus, they turn to absorbing water and dissolved elements from the soil to stay in shape.
“This phenomenon causes plants to be thirsty for water due to excessive water-soluble minerals, which negatively influences the quality of the plant and thus, fruits borne by the plants,” Ah Niao explained.
“The soil naturally contains water-soluble elements but only to an amount just right for the plants,” he added. “This is the reason for my usage of non-water soluble compost and perhaps the definitive method of organic farming.”
Wanting to tackle the stigma towards organic farming, Ah Niao also mentioned the law of nature which exists for the ecology of plants.
“Like every other living organism in the world, plants, especially unhealthy ones, are preyed upon by bugs and insects. Humans consider them as ‘pests’, but that is not necessarily true.
“If a plant is not in top condition, it isn’t the plant’s issue, but the soil. The bugs and insects play a role in removing unhealthy plants in order to make way for healthy ones.
“It’s like a predator-prey relationship; if one isn’t preyed on by the former, overcrowding of the latter will occur and diseases from unhealthy ones especially will spread to the others,” Ah Niao said.
Ah Niao currently plants and sells bitter gourd, okra, purple sweet potato, pumpkin, winter melon and kangkong vegetables.
“We have a WhatsApp group whom we will notify every Sunday or Monday of the week for pre-orders and last orders are on Tuesdays,” he said. “Also, we collaborate with two other organic farms in Cameron Highlands, Mivi Garden and Golden Yield Agriculture, to sell crops that are only available from there.”
Centainnel Agriculture’s processed products include sweet potato mee suar (thin noodles) @ RM10.50 per box, sweet potato ramen @ RM8.50 per box, dried banana @ RM14 per jar, turmeric powder @ RM38 per jar, ground turmeric leaf @ RM6 per jar and the limited availability sugar cane syrup @ RM50 per jar.
“No extra ingredients are used for each product,” Ah Niao clarified. “Only sweet potatoes fresh from the farm, unbleached flour and sea salt are used for both mee suar and ramen. The sugar cane syrup is extracted from using 10 whole sticks of cane, thus it’s super sweet, and perfect as a natural sweetener.
“The dried bananas were prepared by chopping and leaving them to dry under 60 degree Celsius for eight hours,” he mentioned.
Ah Niao added that it’s important to develop a good relationship between an organic farmer and the buyer.
“The most crucial aspect is trust between two parties,” he opined. “We need to assure buyers that the produce they bought are fresh from the farm, not transported from one location to another.
“This is the reason for the WhatsApp group. We have pick-up points for the buyers to meet us,” Ah Niao added.
“Hopefully, we can garner more support from the community to purchase locally grown agricultural produce in the future,” he expressed.
For more information, Ah Niao can be contacted at 012 428 7886 or go to Centainnel Agriculture’s Facebook page.
Pictures by Gisele Soo