Making a difference at FOLO

The recognition that FOLO Farms received from the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Social Entrepreneurship Amplify Awards 2016, is an affirmation of what they are doing and spurring them on to making a greater difference in the community.

Signboard at the entrance to FOLO Farm in Ban Foo
When Dr Lemuel Ng’s father, Caleb Ng, was diagnosed with coronary heart disease, his mother, Nancy, responded by growing their own vegetables and poultry, and radically changing the way they ate.

More than 30 years has passed since this diagnosis and Dr Ng’s father, 82, is alive and well, without the need of a heart bypass.

As a medical practitioner who lived, studied and worked in Asia, Europe and America, Dr Ng garnered extensive experience in his personal journey as he interacted with people in the city and countryside.

Dr Lemuel Ng [Standing Left] speaking to our group
He kept an active lifestyle and tried out different diets for flavour and fitness and over the years, he discovered a recurring pattern in a diet or philosophy that stood the test of time and continues to prove itself against sickness and disease.

This philosophy simply boils down to: Know your farmer, know your food.

I’m listening to Dr Ng’s introduction before he went on to share health and nutritional advice in part of our group’s tour of the FOLO Farms in Johor that started from a sneak peek into their compost facility in Ban Foo and continued to this demo farm in Bukit Kempas.

A cloud of steam was released as Will Chua dug out a
handful of compost for visitors to see, touch and smell
While the farm in Bukit Kempas is opened to the public by appointment only, the compost facility in Ban Foo was included into our itinerary by special arrangement for the benefit of experienced “organic warriors” in our group who wanted to see what FOLO Farms was doing to create their “black gold.”

It was heart-warming to learn that Dr Ng’s journey of discovery, his father’s health issues and his mother’s commitment to turn his health around, all contributed to his decision to put aside a career in medicine for farming.


Visitors touch the compost to feel its warm temperature
Like Dr Ng, five other young people had returned to Johor Baru after studying and working abroad, to be closer to their families.  They, however, noticed a common thread that ran through the lives of their loved ones – poor health, failing organs and the occurrence of cancer – not just among the elderly but also with youngsters!

Refusing to accept this as part of their future, Dr Ng, Will Chua, T Y Tang, Gerald Ling, Jason Lim and his sister, Jacqueline, decided to do something to take ownership of feeding themselves and their loved ones.

They connected with a local farmer, Ah Lek, who accepted their challenge to take the lead in cultivating vegetables and reap a pesticide-free and nutrient-rich harvest. 

Dr Lemuel Ng with visitors at the farm in Bukit Kempas
Now Ah Lek and his team are on the ground daily, toiling in all kinds of weather and catching bugs by hand to ensure that there will be a good harvest!

Feed Our Loved Ones or FOLO Farms started in Kempas in early 2015, on a strip of land that Chua inherited from his father, with the goal to reclaim ownership of the food they ate and started feeding their loved ones with healthier choices that would ultimately result in better health.

To share more about his inspirational journey to discovering the philosophy by which the farms operates, Dr Ng invited his mother to speak.

Nancy Ng [Left] spoke in Mandarin while
Will Chua translated into English
When she stood before the audience, Nancy’s petite stature belied her steely resolve that did wonders to turn her husband’s health around. 

Nancy, 68, spoke in Mandarin with Chua translating into English, to share her story on how she transformed her flower garden into a farm to grow fruits and vegetables and rear poultry. 

Her late mother would help with the traditional method of preparing burnt soil where fire acts as a rapid mineralizing agent to increase soil nutrients.  The farming continues to this day and she proudly showed off photos stored in her handphone, of her lush kitchen garden.

The thought of burnt soil triggered off memories of its distinct aroma because my parents used to practice soil burning to successfully grow fruits and vegetables like cabbages, ladies fingers, brinjals, chillies and limes on the ground, in pots and planters. 

A section of the garden in FOLO Farm Bukit Kempas 
Their leisure was dedicated to our kitchen garden when they were based in Masai for 13 years, while working with the government Health Sub-Centre.

After every downpour, my siblings and I helped to search for snails among the plants and crushed their shells before feeding them to the flock of ducks we reared in our backyard.

Just as we whistled to summon dogs, I remember how the ducks were summoned by yelling, “Di, di, di!” rapidly, in a high pitched voice!

I snapped out of my reverie and picked up on Dr Ng mentioning the topic, “Pesticide contamination in water” which they presented in a recent TED Talk event in JB.

Dr Lemuel Ng [2nd Row Far Right], his parents, Nancy and
Caleb Ng [Front Row], Jacqueline Lim [Back Row Left]
and Will Chua [Back Row Right] with the "organic warriors"
Acquiring the site at Ban Foo allowed them to develop bigger farmlands and embark on recycling vast tons of kitchen waste, turning it into “black gold” to grow larger quantities of vegetables.

But collecting kitchen waste is far from glamourous and entailed waking up at 5am daily to collect up to 3 tons of waste from the city and sending it to the compost facility. 

Dr Ng was pleased that since late 2015, Renaissance Hotel Johor Baru has partnered with them in the composting project.

A FOLO Farm member [Left] collecting her box of
farm-fresh vegetables from the farm on Saturday
The farm is now feeding 60 families in a membership share system modelled after producer-consumer systems like Community Supported Agriculture farms in the US, Teikei in Japan and Hasalim in Korea.

Every Saturday, members who pay a 24-week share, would collect their box from the farm, filled with a variety of vegetables from their crop rotation harvests.

While FOLO Farms’ initial aim was to feed their own families, they also wish to encourage and inspire others to start similar farms. 

With increasing interest in making healthier choices, they aim to develop a community which is committed to not only feeding their bodies but also their hearts and minds in a holistic and healing environment.

A version of this was published in the January 2017 issue of The Iskandarian 

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