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Friday, 12 January 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Jumping on green bandwagon to cut costs

I LOVE my red chillies!

Add a dash of soy sauce, and they are the perfect accompaniment to any Malaysian meal. But try asking for red chillies when you eat out next. You’ll either be brought cili padi or the waiter will apologise and say they do not serve red chillies.

The reason is simple. These hot peppers are going for RM16 per kg now. That’s almost double the price they were two years ago. And rather than pay this exorbitant amount at the pasar malam or supermarket, I’ve chosen to grow my own red chillies. They are in harvest now and the results, I have to say, are pretty satisfying.

In fact, with the price of vegetables on the rise (the recent floods have not helped and the scarcity of vegetable crops affected by the rains has caused prices to spiral), I have also grown pandan, tomatoes and limau purut.

Checks by The Star this week showed that consumers will have to fork out extra money for vegetables and fish, as prices of these items have increased due to the monsoon season.

Other than the aforementioned red chillies (just a week ago, they were RM10 per kg), vegetables such as lady’s fingers and long beans are now being sold at RM9 per kg, up from RM5 and RM7 respectively before the floods hit Johor and Pahang on New Year’s Day.

Market trader Zamana Abu Bakar said even the price of bean sprouts had gone up from RM1.50 per kg to RM3. “A crate of tomatoes is now RM34 compared to RM22 previously,” she added.

Fellow vegetable trader Lee Bing Long said the prices were likely to remain high until the Chinese New Year period.

“My customers are complaining, but I cannot do much as we get the supply from middlemen,” he said.

Lee added that his suppliers from Kulai and Taman Ungku Tun Aminah had warned him earlier that prices would increase due to the rainy season.

So, it’s pretty obvious why more urbanites are choosing to jump on the “green” bandwagon. An increasing number of apartment dwellers are converting their precious space (usually balconies) into mini-farms. I did, and my inspiration was former The Star columnist and TV host Daphne Iking. Her instagram posts on her #skygarden inspired me to try my hand at growing vegetables.

And this has now become a growing trend (pardon the pun).

StarMetro recently featured an article on the Community Garden in Section 24 Setia, Shah Alam.

The garden has become the passion of a group of retirees who started it two years ago with help from the Shah Alam City Council. Today, the urban farm in the heart of Selangor’s capital is a lush, self-sustaining project, thanks to the hard work and love they have put in.

In Johor Baru, residents of the Jasa flats are starting to harvest the vegetables they planted less than a year ago. The urban agriculture programme was an idea mooted by Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin. Residents were provided seed money by the state government to start off their urban farms, and all they needed to do was to put in the extra hours to till the soil.

In both these cases, the fruits and vegetables harvested are consumed by the community themselves, lessening the burden of paying for increasingly high prices of these items.

But just how do you start growing your own vegetables? Trial and error and lots of patience. If you’re an urbanite like me, starting an edible garden can be a rather messy task. Googling a step-by-step guide does help, but you should also speak to the local nursery owner when you purchase seedlings. They can advise you on how much sunlight, water and fertiliser are required for your plants.

Another helpful site is Eats, Shoots & Roots, a social enterprise that aims to empower urban individuals and communities with skills and tools to grow their own food. Check out their Facebook page for gardening tips.

The residents of Section 24 Setia, Shah Alam were urbanites with little or no knowledge about growing plants but they educated themselves. Councillor Awang Ibrahim said that with a little funding, some 80 residents were encouraged to turn an abandoned plot of land into an edible garden.

That 0.14ha garden is now one of the 10 community farms registered with MBSA. Farm chairman Ramli Mohd Salleh said the fruits of their labour can be clearly seen in the plots of vegetables that have been divided for personal consumption and commercial sale.

“We even have an irrigation system built by the residents. We also make our own organic fertiliser from vegetable and fruit scraps,” added Ramli.

They have now produced more than enough vegetables to feed the 217 households in their neighbourhood. The balance is sold at the local market on Wednesday and Saturdays at a much cheaper price than in the pasar malam and wet markets.

But these urban farmers are not resting on their laurels. Their next project is rearing catfish using the hydroponic method. Watch this space.

The writer considers himself a novice gardener. And certainly not an urban farmer. He is looking forward to readers feedback on their journey to growing their own edible gardens.