PerakInitially established as a permaculture project in 2008, we are now growing to be an educational center that teaches people about ways they can incorporate sustainability into their everyday lives wherever they live.  Our farm has become the playground and laboratory where we experiment with new techniques, learn from our mistakes, and try until we succeed.  Along the path of mistakes and subsequent successes, our passion lies in sharing our knowledge and experience with everyone we encounter, from urban folks to local farmers.   Beyond farming, we greatly emphasize living well—from the collection of indigenous tropical medicinal herbs to the principles of eating well and fostering an intentional community with common values towards the aim of living more harmoniously on earth.  After all, we are made from the dust of the earth.  

The land is situated on a hill, 500m above sea level, and is surrounded by dense primary forest.  Being next to the rainforest provides us with ample mountain water for our crops, livestock, and daily living.  As the land is located 6kms from the nearest town, which is only populated by 2000 people, the environment is clean with unpolluted air and minimal urban disturbances.  Being in a rainforest surrounding provides strong biodiversity in the area, which keeps the soil fertile and natural.   Despite occasional visits from the wild boars that can be destructive to crops, our neighbors include a rich variety of wildlife such as gibbons, wild elephants, eagles, hornbills, and snakes.

One example of the ways we are building soil fertility is planting sorghum.  It is a fast-growing crop and is the grain we feed our livestock.  Sorghum byproduct constitutes a large volume of biomass that is returned to the soil.  As it decomposes, sorghum becomes organic matter that conditions and enriches the soil.  The soil on our land has high clay content and doesn’t hold moisture well, so organic matter improves the soil structure, moisture holding capacity, and aeration.

Our farming principle is to grow with zero negative effects to the soil and environment.  Because of our unique location in the rainforest, it is extremely crucial not to disturb the complex natural biodiversity and ecosystem that has been established for hundreds of thousands of years.  Instead of planting using monoculture methods, we mix our crops and create forest gardens where a variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits can coexist and assist each other.  The farm’s policy is to remain 100% chemical free.  By creating a network of relationships, we are able to effectively stay away from using pesticides and chemicals.  Our livestock of goats, chickens, and ducks are not kept for their meat, but as part of the sustainable system.  The grazing goats become our assistants in preventing the dense jungle from aggressively growing and creeping into our land.  Their manure becomes the main ingredient for composting and later turns into fertilizer for our crops.  Our livestock is fed with purely organic food such as organic kitchen waste and desiccated coconut is thrown away as waste at the local market.  The grain we feed to the livestock is also grown on the land using the same principles.  On our farm, plants, animals, and humans are of equal importance and we feed others as well as we would like to feed ourselves.   Attention to this constant cycle is key to our chemical-free concept.

With the lack of organic seeds in Malaysia, we have begun an organic seed bank in hopes to supply local farmers with organic seeds to reduce their reliance on genetically-modified seeds for their crops.

As our land is located on a 25-degree hill slope, we create terraces to minimize any exposed soil for vegetable growing and in between planted ground creepers such as pumpkins, squash, and winter melons.  In our tropical climate, rain showers are frequent and the fertile topsoil can be easily washed off with one big rain, not only affecting the soil fertility but exposing the land gradient to possible erosion.

Our biggest challenge is keeping the surrounding environment pristine and preventing the loss of rainforest through logging and commercial planting developments.  The local authorities do not provide any form of support for sustainable agriculture.  Our neighboring land and hills, which had been secondary rainforest, were completely cleared and logged by timber companies who were doing joint-venture projects with the local governmental economic development agency.  Up to 300 acres of forest were planted with hybrid eucalyptus as a source of fast-growing timber.   We encounter a daily struggle, attempting to prevent our crops from being cleared and sprayed with herbicide, and constantly monitor our water source to ensure no chemical wastes are diverted into the streams.

Sustainably grown crops fetch lower than market prices in the local wholesalers, as they are judged on their shape and size irregularities.   Thus, our income is irregular and uncertain, making it necessary to rely on guests to keep afloat.   Local community awareness of the importance of sustainable agriculture is poor.   Our activities are seen as too labor intensive.  For our neighbors, it is easier to buy ready-made chemical fertilizers to obtain a decent harvest despite its higher costs.

Our long-term goal is to be fully self-sufficient with respect to both food and energy.  More importantly, we want to be living proof that it is possible to practice natural farming with zero chemicals, even in a dense rainforest. We hope to share our knowledge and experience with anyone who wishes to follow a similar path.  We also aim to expand to a community-supported system in which our farm can provide food for a limited number of families.

Our farming and agriculture techniques are developed and designed through prioritizing the constant observation of nature.  We keep things simple to find the easiest solutions. If we allow ourselves to observe and learn from plants, animals, and nature, the answers are often given to us.  Therefore, in the systems that we design, we are mostly replicating natural occurrences and behavior.  As these systems are implemented, they are highly effective, low in cost, and extremely simple. You can almost say that it is just common sense.

As long as we keep everyone and everything happy and well fed, they feed us well in return.