Entrepreneur

They Started A Farm For Their Sick Families—Now Feed Fresh Veggies To 100 Homes In Johor

Most of us would go to great lengths for the ones we care about. Sacrifices become worth it when you see how much it has helped benefit the lives of those you love.

That’s how Will Chua and his fellow co-founders feel when they look upon the fruits of 3 years of hard work.

Their journey began in 2014. Will and his 4 childhood friends returned to Johor Bahru from overseas to be closer with their families when they noticed how some of them were suffering from chronic illnesses at a young age.

One of the friends, Dr. Lemuel, determined one of the root issues to be the harmful food they were eating. So to help fight it, the team came together and came up with a way to feed their families the right things.

It started out just as an idea.

The group of 5 wanted to build a community organic farm but they had little to no experience on what it took to start one.

It wasn’t until they got their partner Ah Lek and his wife on board—both organic farmers with more than 20 years of experience with farming—that they could launch FOLO (Feed Our Loved Ones) Farms.

A family-run farm that turns food waste into rich organic compost, they grow a diverse range of healthy vegetables and microgreens. They collect the food waste from restaurants and hotels who partner with them, like Renaissance Hotel.

Image Credit: Chivas Venture

Their composting and farming mentor, Pierre Loisel from Taiwan, explained to them that to grow organic vegetables, they should do their own composting to create the most nutritious organic fertilisers.

Will claims this is true since the organic compost they make helps regenerate degraded soil and restore the soil’s fertility so the produce can grow rich with nutrients.

They run on a subscription model to build a sense of community with the risk and reward of a joint harvest.

People join the farm as members for a 24-week share and come by the farm every Saturday to pick up their harvest for the week.

The team have 3 farms around Johor. One functions as a demo farm where they do their experimenting and it’s also open to public for school tours, private workshops and so on. The remaining 2 are for their main production and compost facility.

Image Credit: FOLO Farms Facebook

“We do crop rotation so it is better for the soil, and members get to try different vegetables. We also have corporate members. As we grow vegetables not commonly found in your conventional supermarkets, restaurants do approach us directly to buy our vegetables, especially our microgreens,” shared Will to Vulcan Post.

They started out with 6 to 10 families in 2015 and have now grown to having over 100 families weekly with a long waiting list as well.

FOLO Farms is also already cashflow positive after 2 years of operating while subsidising about 3 tonnes of food waste recovery every single day.

“We are also fortunate to receive a lot of consistent pro bono and volunteering help from our families and community, which lowers our costs and expenses,” explained Will.

Their work has been acknowledged by corporates such as Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) who crowned them as winners for the National Amplify Awards 2016 and enabled them to be a part of the pioneering batch of Impact Driven Enterprises (IDE) that is recognised by the government.

But personally for Will, he sees acknowledgement in the form of the intangibles.

“It’s rewarding to see families being provided with the healthiest food and coming together to build a community that wants to contribute to our health and environment,” said Will.

And now he wants to build an “Agrihood” of FOLO-type farms.

Wanting to take their enterprise even further, the team applied for Chivas Venture 2016 (a US$1 million global search to find and support the world’s most promising social entrepreneurs).

They emerged as the first-ever Malaysian global finalist of the Chivas Venture and represented our country at the global finale stage in Los Angeles.

Image Credit: theedgemarkets.com

FOLO Farms went on to win US$10,771.62 in funding from the Chivas Venture through its public voting phase, which they used to purchase a brand new farm tractor.

But rather than just focusing on the monetary prize, Will said the wide network they were introduced to was a huge benefit. FOLO Farms is still in touch with other finalists and have even discussed possible collaborations in the future, such as helping them source raw materials.

“The Malaysia Chivas Venture team has been amazing in helping promote our concept and spread the word of our work through the media and their events, including helping us with great video work. We hope to continue this relationship and help other Malaysia social enterprises succeed at Chivas Venture in the coming years.”
– Will

When asked about his plans, Will shared that FOLO Farms is in the midst of collaborating with a few housing developers to promote an idea.

They’re hoping to build a FOLO-type “agrihood” in their townships where residents and businesses can work together to recover and compost their food waste, and to grow healthy food in their townships as opposed to exotic landscapes fed with chemicals.

Image Credit: Chivas Venture

“We hope to play our small but significant part in transforming the health of everyone’s loved ones through growing our own organic food, and in transforming the health of our dear Mother Earth, through recovering and composting food waste, and returning life back into our soil. We hope to go from an urban community farm, to an urban farm movement,” said Will.

It’s always admirable to see people like Will and his team go out of their way to contribute back to society with their inspirational ideas. Chivas Regal feels the same way, hence why they’re opening their applications for the 2018 edition of Chivas Venture to Malaysians for a second time. Applications close this 28 October 2017.

So if you’re like FOLO Farms and are looking to nurture your social enterprise to a global level, this is your chance to send in your application. This could be the golden ticket for you to learn about what it takes to make your social enterprise better and get rewarded for it.

If you’d like to find out more information on The Chivas Venture, you can click here.

This article is written in collaboration with Chivas Venture.

Feature Image Credit: Chivas Venture

 

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