Malaysian social enterprise builds satellite farms for the less fortunate
When Stanley Yap Wei Lun, 37, needs leafy greens, he just walks out to the backyard to harvest them.
The founder of Persatuan Kebajikan Orang-orang Tua Bahagia Selangor (En Yuan Old Folks Home) in Petaling Jaya has 33 vegetable containers – called Hope Boxes – which use a terrarium system that self-regenerates for months without fertilisers.
“There are vegetables like perpetual spinach, Brazilian spinach, red watercress and sayur manis (sauropus androgynus). Currently, 80% of the vegetables consumed by the residents are from the garden. The good part is the vegetables are fresh and pesticide-free.
“We have 33 residents at our home, and many of them help us to grow the greens. They like to tend to the vegetables as it keeps them busy and active,” said Yap.
His welfare home provides food and shelter to old folks and the special needs community.
Besides the organic vegetables, Yap also grows about 95 red tilapia in a pond, fertilising the vegetables in the aquaponic system.
Yap’s ‘satellite farm’ project was made possible by social enterprise PWD Smart Farmability.
With the Hope Boxes and aquaponic system, Yap can harvest fresh, organic, nutritious and unrefrigerated vegetables in his home.
Thanks to the project, Yap can save on the charity home’s food expenses significantly.
“I used to fork out RM1,800 each month on vegetables, but now, I only spend about RM400 on items like carrots, cauliflower and capsicum.
“We harvest the fish – which weigh between 800g and 1.5kg – every six months.
“We are a charity organisation, so planting our greens and rearing fish enable us to further stretch our ringgit.”
The regenerative organic vegetable terrariums – believed to be the world’s first – and ‘soil-ution’ aquaponics satellite farms are specially designed by paraplegic agriculturist and researcher Dr Billy Tang, 56, founder of PWD Smart Farmability.
The Subang Jaya, Selangor-based father of two created them for people with disabilities (PWDs) and marginalised groups to ensure nutritious food is accessible to people from all economic backgrounds.
“Our aspiration is to see every OKU centre, welfare, old folks, and orphanage home with at least one satellite farm to serve as their local procurement (channel),” said Tang, who became a paraplegic after a car accident in 2015.
Since its inception in 2019, PWD Smart Farmability has distributed 4,630kg of fish and over 3.5 tonnes of organic vegetables. In addition, Tang and his team have installed six satellite farms and trained 120 people to operate the aquaponics units.
To date, 3,110 units of Hope Box terrariums have been offered up for adoption or sale to ensure beneficiaries get to eat fresh and healthy greens. Each box costs RM200.
For their efforts, PWD Smart Farmability was recognised as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award in 2020. It was also one of the two Gamuda Inspiration Award winners, obtaining a RM50,000 grant.
With the satellite farming project, Tang wants to help NGOs achieve financial independence. He also wants to encourage disabled communities to contribute to nation building by becoming farmers.
“According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is as high as 90% in some of the world’s developing countries due to discrimination and lack of accessibility. Turning to entrepreneurship can offer a viable alternative.
“Our goal is to inspire healthy living, economic opportunity, community empowerment and reconnect People With Disabilities (PwD) back to society with dignity.
“With our terrarium boxes, we hope to teach food and health literacy among the older and younger generations where people will realise the importance of nutrition,” said Tang.