A Forgotten Land Transform by Nature Into a Mini Food Forest
A success story of using permaculture approach to revive a land
TokNenek Home Away, is an urban farm just outside of Klang town. It is an hour’s drive (34km) from the capital city, Kuala Lumpur.
This hidden urban treasure is wonderful fertile farmland called TokNenek Home Away, translated in English — GrandpaGrandMa’s Home Away. It is a place where tired humans return to rejuvenate their souls by connecting with nature.
As you arrived on the street, a thick border of blooming red hibiscus welcomes visitors near the entrance. You will have chickens and chooks scampering close by, looking for their morning worms. The air smells of morning dew on wet grass laced with a woody scent of burnt earth. It hints of a farm behind the iron gates.
As you enter, a giant looming green bamboo greets visitors with a grand bow. Hundreds of bamboo trees clump together like a big family huddle — each leaning on the other as they set roots to this land. You can’t resist but gaze with awe at the density and the height of this huge bamboo canopy.
These old mature bamboos have survived years, weathering rain and shine, standing tall and strong, ready to share tales from long ago while offering the much-needed shade for humans to catch a breather from the hot Malaysian sun.
Opposite this colossal bamboo lies an old double-story bungalow house built for a large family. The living rooms and dining area are organized around a rich mahogany stair. The wooden handrails are shiny with a polished and smooth feel from years of care and love.
Beyond the kitchen is a vegetable & herbs garden. You will find plenty of fresh local herbs thriving in this fertile bed, ready to be picked for a healthy Ulam dish — I heard it is a favourite with the family. A mixture of Black & Green cincau (Platostoma palustre plant), curry plant(sweet neem), Thai basil, mint, pandan(Screw pine), Temu Pauh ginger, tamarind trees becomes a focus for curious visitors. You would sense good food is cook and cater to the hungry folks of this home.
The land around the house is approximately 3/4 acres (38,000 sqft). The surrounding is forest-like, thick with lush plantation of all types, shapes and heights, . You will find plenty of cone-shaped compost piles sitting snug in between trees. Each constructed using a natural composting technique relying on microbes, and a mixture of natures’ waste. These cones piles are left to nature to ‘slow-cook’ into what farmers call ‘black gold.’
As you navigate towards the center of the land, you will find yourself in a middle of a small experimental food forest with 30 rare indigenous trees bearing fruits ready for picking. You will find Cermai trees (aka Malay gooseberry), a shady peanut butter tree, coffee trees, avocado tree, several local trees — bananas, papaya, calamansi planted a few short years ago.
Around these trees, flowers are planted, teasing bees and butterflies to pick up pollen. On the west side of the land you will find tall sturdy trees rooted like body guards to this food forest. The perimeters of this farm, is covered with Mucana Prurien bean creepers, curling around the wire fences, providing a beautiful soft green edge for the farm.
As you walk around the ground, the sound of crushed dried leaves follows your footprints. The ground is soft and damp; the weeds caress your shoes as you tread carefully to observe nature’s creation at work.
In the shaded area of the two recycled shipping containers, you will find a bustling seedling pod. Here seeds are collected and cultivated. Hundreds of Merbau seeds sprout in a corner while green vegetable like Sacha Inci Beans, Kale, and Radish are springing their way out. A sense of life and optimism is felt around this pod.
But the land did not start like that. It was clayish, muddy and thick with weeds as tall as a man. The weeds rule the landscape back then.
How it all started
In early 2017, Abdul Razak and his family decided to fulfill their late parent’s wish to have a flourishing land that could provide food for the family. He shares, “In some way, it is as if nature is gently nudging us to revive the soul of this land.”
It took two months to rid the land of weeds and make it habitable. Two shipping containers were installed at the side of the farm as a small working office. It was critical to establish a sustainable ecosystem from the start. The revival of this almost barren land needed the support of nature. It would have been an impossible task if left to humans alone.
Establishing the forest ecosystem
Inspired by Geoff Lawton,a British-born Australian permaculture consultant and designer, Razak and the family planted their first pioneer trees. These hardy trees with long roots (also known as the support species)were the backbone of their experimental food forest.
They are essential in the success of turning this clay ground into today’s fertile land. These trees provided the much-needed nitrogen to convert the land to mulch, where they can start growing fruit trees.
“We learned from nature. We experiment and observe nature. We studied the importance of layering in an ecosystem.” — Abdul Razak, Owner of TokNenek Mini Food Forest & Permaculture Consultant, SEEDS Malaysia.
Besides providing shade to the vegetation around the farm, the roots of these support species trees became an essential underground system connecting all the trees. It is almost like a subterranean train system. The origins of trees communicate and support each other, ensuring that the plantation in the farm has access to water and nutrient.
While the trees were establishing roots, fruit seeds/cuttings were planted in raised beds made of recycled materials such as tires, concrete blocks, bricks, metal bins, and wooden crates. By allowing the taproots to grow in these beds, the roots has time to mature and strengthen before penetrating into the ground.
The first fruit planting took place in early 2018.
Legumes became the 2nd layer of the food forest. The fruit trees were planted in between trees, taking advantage of the rich soil churned by the support species trees. These fruit-bearing trees and plants are accompanied by flower shrubs and low bushes of herbs to complete the 3rd & 4th layer of the food forest. As time goes by, more layers were added, gradually making up the current green forest-like foliage of the farm.
Other than the occasional pruning or propagating, the vegetations are left to nature to manage and nourish.
“When we picked our first fruit, we knew we are in harmony with nature. Our bond with the land grew closer over time. Today we are assistants to this small food forest. What the land discard is recycled back as compost to the ground. What the trees and veggies bear became food for nourishment for the family and friends, as my parents envisioned.”
“My childhood playground was always in nature. We did not have fancy shopping malls or big toy shops but instead, the rivers and the forest trails were where I spent most of my youth. It is only natural that I return this favor to Mother Earth.” — Abdul Razak, Owner of TokNenek Mini Food Forest & Permaculture Consultant, SEEDS Malaysia.
Nature has always been there for us. What started out as an experiment few year ago, today has bear fruits of success for all who are willing to partner with nature. For this family it allow them to participate in growing healthy food for nourishment. Nothing is wasted on this land, the ecosystem of this mini food forest became a natural way of living for this family too.
Thank you for staying till the end.
Side notes for readers:
Forest Layers — Permaculture Research Institute. — (1) canopy layer followed by (2) understory trees, (3) bushes and shrubs, and down to (4) herbaceous layers. Under the ground, there are (5) root yields, and at the surface, there are (6) groundcovers. There are also vertical layers of (7) climbers.