Growing vegetables without chemicals at the Ladybird Organic Farm.
By Cynthia Hoo
Organic food used to be regarded a luxury but, for many, it’s now become part of their daily diet. With a growing number of health-conscious Malaysians now opting to eat organic daily, it has given a boost to the business of vegetable home delivery.
These boxes, filled with fresh vegetables delivered from organic farms on a weekly or fortnightly basis, have become a popular convenience. This is despite the fact that customers cannot choose what goes into the boxes.
The supply is determined by what’s available at that point in harvest, and what’s in season. The idea is not just to eat organic but also to eat local and in season, this being more environmentally and economically sustainable.
Boey Yin Yin, who gets a box of vegetables delivered every fortnight, said she, in fact, liked having the decisions having been made for her.
“It’s fun to experiment with what I find in the box. I like the surprises,” she said.
She said she tried out the boxes a few months ago because they looked interesting, and it was convenient to have vegetables delivered to her doorstep. Previously, she would get her supply from the pasar tani or local farmers’ market.
Although her RM50 box which lasts her a week costs more than the market, Yin Yin said she considered it value-for-money as the food is fresh, and without the hassle of travelling.
“The tomatoes have so much more flavour! I eat a lot of the vegetables raw so I have peace of mind knowing that my raw food dishes are pesticide-free,” she said.
Ivy Sam, who gets weekly boxes delivered for RM190 a month, also said it was good to receive a random selection of vegetables to enable her family to try out new flavours and get a varied diet, especially for her young children.
“Most of the vegetables are local varieties so it’s good to know that we are supporting our local economy and ecosystem,” she said. “We opted for this as it saves time, petrol, and time.”
She estimated that her boxes cost 40 per cent more than regular vegetables but there’s less wastage as the food does not spoil easily.
A rising demand for organic vegetables
They are among the burgeoning health-conscious Malaysian middle class who don’t mind paying more for food grown without chemicals. This trend, which picked up in recent years, has given a boost to farms like the Ladybird Organic Farm which plants 30 to 40 varieties in Semenyih and Cameron Highlands.
David Siaw, the farm manager, said that, when he first started selling organic vegetables in Sabah 16 years ago, it didn’t take off as people weren’t familiar with the concept then. They had no idea what it meant but, today, there’s much more awareness about healthy food.
Over the last four years, the farm has seen its subscriber base for delivery boxes increase to over 500 people. Siaw said people learnt about the service through word-of-mouth especially over the Internet. The farm also gets many visitors, particularly school groups (pic).
“Sixteen years ago, people didn’t know what organic meant. Now, there’s much more awareness,” he said.
Nur Amirah Sukanty, who runs Total Organics which supplies vegetable boxes, agreed. Since she started her business six months ago, her customer base has tripled and is still growing.
“People are getting more health conscious especially about the use of pesticides,” she said.
She provides nine to 10 varieties in the boxes, with her vegetables sourced from farms in Cameron Highlands. Nur Amirah said customers like the convenience of delivery to their homes or offices, and do not mind not being able to choose what goes into the boxes. They like the variety, she said.
Despite organic vegetables costing up to triple that of regular vegetables, Malaysia clearly has a big middle class who are willing to pay. The subscribers tend to be well travelled and exposed to new health trends. The suppliers say most of their customers are Malaysian urbanites, with a number of expatriates.
Healthy living is big business these days.