Author’s Blurb: Wanting to eventually retire to work on my own little farm in a beautiful valley or similar has always been my end goal for my life, and many of today’s youths might find this relatable. I am definitely under no impression that it’ll be all peaceful and easy, but I’m willing to work to make it a reality one day.
Kim and Eric had already made this dream a reality for themselves when they bought over a farm in 2009 with their extended family.
“We didn’t know how to build a house and couldn’t afford an architect so we settled on buying an old kampung house and hiring Javanese carpenters to reassemble it,” Kim shared with Vulcan Post.
“While we were building the foundation of the house, we had a whimsical thought that having a tree house connected via a ropewalk would entice our young son at the time to spend more time at the farm.”
After a couple of years of working the farm and staying at their eco-lodge and treehouse, they decided to open up the farm for day guests and lodgers under the name Green Acres.
“There were more durian day visitors than lodgers and every time we had a group, we had to lug the durians up to the house and there was a big mess everywhere in the house and in the rooms,” Kim recalled.
So, they built another house, but this time only after building a cement road to the site, and it was named UJ Hut after their uncle.
One Farm, Multiple Business Opportunities
Today, Green Acres boasts 3 main revenue streams: farm tours, farm stays, and from processing their fruit into jams, pickles and naturally fermented beverages to be sold in organic shops and restaurants.
During durian season, farm tours take off. “Balik Pulau is quite well known traditionally for producing some of the best durians in the country and we have a beautiful orchard that brings a delightful farm experience to nature lovers too,” Kim described.
But it’s not always a sunny situation for the family. More often than not, Kim revealed that they’ve had to subsidise the farm a fair bit.
“Contrary to what a lot of people think, small-scale durian farms are labour and time intensive. There are only 2 months in a year where the seasonal trees bear fruit if the conditions are right. At best, we break even to pay for workers for the entire year.”
Off season, you’d find Kim and Eric working other jobs like most farm owners. On average, they work at the farm 3 days a week with some part time workers, and the rest of the time they spend on marketing, producing down steam products and working their day jobs (doing corporate training and events).
Aside from financial struggles, however, marketing and labour also make up some of the biggest challenges.
For the couple, the labour would be worthwhile if they could sell most of their fruits directly, but customers often want to select their produce while hotels prefer bulk orders at a consistent timing.
“For a small holding, different trees have different timing in the ripening process. Basically, there is no consistency in our produce,” Kim said.
Take the example of cikus, which she shared usually seem ready to harvest over a 2-week period. They can pluck a few hundred kilograms of them but cannot find buyers.
As cikus also don’t store well (upon plucking, they take about 3 to 7 days to ripen and soften, but upon ripening they should be consumed within 2 days), the amount of fruits wasted is sinful, according to Kim.
In terms of labour, it’s tough to find the people for it. “Even foreign labour workers shun farm work as it is low paying compared to construction,” she said.
With Green Acres’ caretaker being in his 60s, and Kim and Eric in their 50s, they do what they can manage at the end of the day.
Thanks to the MCO now, they can no longer do farm tours and farm stays, so they’re preserving their fruits and will be running a durian box delivery sometime in May, when the durian season is in full-swing.
Breaking New Ground
In their years of running the farm, their most consistent customers during peak durian season are tourists, both local and foreign.
During a season of bountiful fruit harvest, they can get an average of 40 to 50 bookings for farm tours and farm stays.
Their target customers are families and nature seekers who appreciate the education Kim and Eric can share on sustainable farming and healthy, clean food.
They also appeal to travellers who are conscious of their carbon footprint and want to support environmentally conscious and sustainable farms like Green Acres.
Currently, to aid in their vision of the farm, they’ve got bat researchers studying durian flowers and pollinators.
“We hope to get more research going, especially to confirm if organic food, local fruits and veggies contain more micro nutrients than conventionally farmed ones. These research findings need to be shared to keep people more informed and educated,” Kim stated.
This in turn will hopefully inspire more people to take up sustainable living and perhaps even farming.
She added, “You don’t need to have any farming background to be involved in agritourism. You just need to be very open to learning and of course get your hands dirty and your taste buds kicking again.”
Ultimately, they want to have a model whereby farming is the ‘in’ thing, by embarking on a 2-year project to build more fully sustainable tiny houses on the farm, and hiring a team to manage and record everything so that other farmers may copy the model if it turns out to be profitable.
“With this model, there is hope that a marriage of farming and agritourism will make more economic sense and create more opportunities to ensure food security and our environment are equally looked after,” Kim said.
“All that’s lacking now are more likeminded people who want to make it work.”
Bottom Line: Perhaps many of us think of farming as a return to the basics, a transition to a simpler life, but there’s so much complexity in upkeeping a farm that goes unnoticed to the average tourist or consumer. While I’m not sure how common of a concept sustainable farming is in Malaysia yet, it’s great to see a farm like Green Acres being one of the pioneers.
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Featured Image Credit: Green Acres