Grow your own food now, will you?

The MCO swayed many people to explore urban farming concept

pic by BERNAMA

THANKS to the Movement Control Order (MCO), more Malaysians have taken up gardening as their new hobbies.

For some inexplicable reason, everyone seems to be crazy about having at least a pot of Sansevieria (Lidah Jin in Bahasa Malaysia) at home.

The plant, also known as snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, which not many even took notice of before, suddenly became a craze.

At some nurseries, the plant was sold at up to RM200 per small pot! Yup, you can even order the plant from the various shopping platforms.

The Sansevieria is not the only plant that piqued people’s interest. More and more people are also teaching themselves how to garden within confined areas, while many novice gardeners are showing off their handiwork on various social media platforms.

Bean sprouts (taugeh), as well as various species of mushrooms, might now be growing under some sinks and kitchen cabinets, while yardlong beans (kacang panjang) have replaced the usual creepers on some balconies all over Kuala Lumpur.

In place of certain ornamental plants are Vietnamese coriander (kesum), basil (selasih), pennywort (pegaga) as well as the usual suspects for the Western-cooking like thyme, oregano and rosemary.

Easy-to-grow seeds are also in demand. People seem to be keener in cooking with ingredients that they could pluck in their own gardens like chilli, brinjal and okra. Sale of gardening tools, soil, fertiliser and other apparatus and related utensils are also soaring on the various Internet shopping platforms.

Of course, some seem to be “more courageous” in their choice of plants for their home garden.

In June alone, several people were arrested for planting marijuana in their humble abode.

On June 18, police arrested a husband and wife and their male friend at three different locations in the Seberang Perai Utara, Butterworth, on suspicion of cultivating cannabis (ganja) plants in their homes.

The suspects, aged between 21 and 28, were with four cannabis plants of 30, 35, 58 and 70cm in height worth RM800. The suspects started their gardening hobby right before the MCO, after learning to cultivate the plants from YouTube with the intention of selling them locally at RM200 per plant when they matured!

Around the same time, another husband and wife team was arrested for a similar offence. In their possession were 38 ganja plants which they were growing inside their condominium in Puchong, Selangor.

The husband and wife, aged 29 and 31, who run an online cosmetics business, were believed to have studied how to grow the drugs using special equipment, all from the Internet. Apart from the plants, police also found a larger amount of compressed ganja.

The plants were put in the unit’s balcony and inside a room, which had a temperature control device installed. Police also found special lighting equipment and fertiliser specially formulated for the plant there.

Initial investigation also revealed that it was the suspects’ first attempt at growing ganja, believed to be meant for the local black market once they are ready for harvesting.

On June 27, a man and a woman were arrested after a cannabis plant was found at their house in Kuching, Sarawak. According to the police report, an 8cm tall cannabis plant was found growing in a pot at the house.

In June alone, several people were arrested for planting marijuana in their humble abode – pic by BLOOMBERG

In short, while the hobby is noble, the choice of plant is questionable. Now, imagine if all the suspects use their new-found expertise by cultivating “kosher crop”.

They could have easily made some money on the side, or perhaps save on their monthly expenses with their homegrown vegetables.

Either way, the MCO somehow did sway quite a lot of people to explore the urban farming concept.

Judging from all that has been shared by many on social media platforms, urban farming is clearly in the mind’s eye of many individuals, community groups, food justice advocates, environmentalists, city planners and gardeners.

For those who still could not grasp the concept, urban farming is growing or producing food in a city or heavily populated town or municipality. It is a concept that is catching up fast in all the more developed countries.

In Singapore, for instance, quite a number of roofs on various buildings and skyscrapers have now been transformed into mini-farms.

The best part about the whole concept is, you don’t need to be a corporation run an urban farm or have a large tract of land. Any individual or neighbourhood group can start and run an urban farm. There is no one correct sales outlet for an urban farm.

The product can be sold to restaurants or at a farmers market or given to a local soup kitchen or church.

Since the interest for gardening is also on the rise, more of us are also seeking for more know-how on how food is grown, how it is treated after being harvested and how it moves from one place along the food route to another.

Urban agriculture has become a means to increase access to locally grown food and a way of reintroducing the public to the many aspects of food that we have lost as a culture.

How food grows, what grows regionally and seasonally are all important lessons and make a better informed urban consumer. Urban farms can be the front line of the food system.

Most importantly, size does not matter for urban farming. Some projects are on rooftops, landfills or abandoned areas where housing or industry may have been demolished.

Of course, some projects are built as for-profit concerns, especially when savings can be made on transportation which makes urban farming financially viable as well as more environmentally responsible.

With Malaysians growing knowledge and interest in urban farming, it might be the right time for the government to initiate certain incentives that could encourage the people to perhaps venture in an area that has vast potential which could also be profitable.

Tax incentives and subsidies might be among the initiatives that would entice more to be involved in urban farming, which could benefit many in the longer run. Budget 2021 perhaps?

Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor at The Malaysian Reserve.