Where seeds of wisdom grow

An inspiring story of urban farming by the residents of AU2 Keramat

Arriving at Flat Colombia after a good half hour of driving around, the juxtaposition of an almost kampung-like residence against the bustling capital struck me as I caught a distant view of the iconic towers. This is Taman Keramat, 10km away from the city. Crossing a small field where children were playing football, I met En. Halim, my kebun guide that evening. He is the head of the resident committee in-charge of a 0.74-acre organic garden nestled between the flats and the Klang River.

Towering landmarks line the backdrop of Flat Colombia's community garden.

This little plot is a maze of vegetables, fruits, and herbs of more than a hundred varieties. En.Halim led me around the neatly divided patches, explaining how and when they came about and what they are used for.

“Everything grown on this land goes back to the community in one way or another,” he said, sharing how people stroll in at any time to grab an ingredient they need for dinner that night. “When we have a kenduri, we boil the ubi, and use the roselle fruit to make a Ribena-like drink.”
Spearheaded by the Department of Irrigation Drainage (DID), the project is part of the River of Life Public Outreach Programme (ROL-POP), a component within the River of Life project designed to reconnect communities with the river and to empower sustainable projects.

“Right from the start of ROL (2012), we were strong believers of the public outreach programme. We need to complement the hard approach(infrastructure) with something we call, the heart approach. Only then the people can see themselves as part of the solution.” Explained Dr. Kalithasen, Coordinator of the Global Environment Centre, one of the POP consultants.

Through working the land by Klang River, En Halim wishes to foster a community spirit akin to that of the village he grew up in.

The organic garden is a perfect example of a successful initiative, bringing various parties together for a common cause, with even the local municipiality chipping in with funds, and fertilizer.

“What they’ve done with the place is amazing. Previously they were using fresh water for the plants. We discussed it with them and thought it was a waste, so we gave them a water filter and a pump.” he added. Today, the farm is irrigated by filtered water from the Klang River.
Also supporting the project is a team of volunteers from Maybank, assisting with funding for maintenance, as well as engagement and community enrichment programmes.
“This partnership enables them(community) to keep the area clean and also enjoy the fruits of their labour. They have also been taught not to use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers that will eventually impact the quality of the river water”, says Maybank’s Group Chief Risk Officer, Dr John Lee.
There were a few other resident volunteers at the garden that evening, and a few more came along when they noticed the visitors. Like En. Halim, most of them help at the garden when time allows, but it is really the seniors who are the pillars of the project. They tend to the garden daily, and occasionally get children and teenagers to help with the heavy work.

Pak Ujang, one of the senior residents, proudly shows off a prized kebun produce

“We have been considering using this small plot for paddy, so then kids can learn where the rice they eat comes from and appreciate the hard work that goes into putting food on the table. You think it is easy? Come, work for it yourself and see,” En. Halim laughed, pointing at the land around us.
As the sky began to darken with the receding evening sun, I was invited to a small feast within the garden, where they served tea, sugar cane water, crackers, and local fruits. One of the men sauntered in with a steaming pot of pengat pisang tanduk, a sweet porridge made with sago and fresh banana from the garden.

The residents frequently gather for tea and snacks at the garden hut in a traditional display of a community culture.

As we sat there munching and chatting, sounds of splashes and laughter drifted across the garden – some of the residents had jumped into the cool pond, attracting curious children from the field, who gleefully awaited their turn at a dip.
Among this little party at the hut was an elderly couple, En. Aris and Pn. Norrizam. As Aris set aside cucumber seeds to be replanted, his wife instructed me on how to make full use of the roselle fruit. As I was preparing to leave, she loaded a plastic bag with even more roselle, along with a generous amount of kacang panjang that I had earlier picked with her, and handed it over to me.

A few men took the opportunity to dip in the cool, concrete fish pond before it was officially opened.

“It is the kampung community spirit that I wish to foster, you know? People like me who grew up spending time in the kebun appreciate fresh produce knowing where it comes from. We practise the saying biar miskin harta, asal kaya budi bahasa (let us be poor in possessions, but rich in manners).” En Halim said in a half-musing manner.
I nodded obediently, topping up my bowl of pengat.
Some ways below us, the river flowed slowly and silently by. Although muddy and dirty, it continues to give life, but only if we choose to work with it, not against it. Appreciation was the lesson of the day, and I learnt it on a full stomach.

Resident volunteers strive to make the most of their little community garden at AU2 Taman Keramat.