our off-grid farm

Lenggong Valley, Malaysia

In the mornings the view from the Ladia and Amy’s farmhouse is breathtaking looking down onto Lenggong Valley in Perak, Malaysia. The clouds often settle in the valley below, leaving our off-grid farm perched up on the mountain, separated from civilization by a blanket of white.03

Across the valley, the cloud cover leaves only some mountain peaks exposed, which highlights the farm’s solitude. The farm’s apparent isolation has the effect of slowing down time, even to a stand-still, as though the entire world has been paused, or has even ceased to exist.

 

Our place is located 7km away from Lenggong, a small sleepy town in Northern Perak that had recently been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2012 for its archaelogical importance in pre-historic civilization.

On the fringe of hills that line both sides of Lenggong Valley, we are situated 500m above sea level, hugged by the Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve and overlooking the breathtaking hill ranges across the vally. Climatically, the higher altittude and surround untouched rainforest provides a cooler and pleasant temperature, especially in the evenings and nights.

Since moving here in 2009, ongoing restoration and conversion had been carried out to make use of the abandoned buildings of the previous tea plantation, turning them into a liveable home and shelter for us and the farm.

With the badly pilfered state of the buildings during its decade of abandonment, the power lines that once connected the plantation to the electricity grid no longer existed when we took over. Left with only bare electricity poles, all the wires had been stolen. We see this as a loss but an opportunity given that we were unable to afford the cost of infrastructure to restore electricity connection to the main grid again.

Since December 2013, we are solar-powered 24 hours a day!
After  experimenting and building up our system, we successfully put the panels on our roof and voila. It has been a big change for us as now it’s best to use electricity in the day. Our strong tropical sun charges up our battery in no time and that gives us excess power during the day.

Benefits of Limited Power

We learned more diligent which appliances are large consumers of power, like a hairdryer and then evaluate our need for it in our lives.  In the city, flipping a switch is a no-brainer decision because we that there will always be power supply with the exception of a power outage. The abundance and continuous power make us more careless about what is truly necessity and what can be simply wasteful use of energy.

The majority of our electricity supply comes from burning coal, natural gas etc. All these natural resources require massive extraction processes which causes negative externalities of environmental degradation. In addition to that, these resources are limited in supply. Once day they will run out when we have exhausted them all.

Having access to high quality, unpolluted water was one of the main criteria in choosing this location. With the Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve as our backyard and having no potential civilization, we are extremely proud and fortunate to have our water sourced from one of the many streams from the hills. We drink wild water – unprocessed and full of living energy as ecologist Stephen Harrod Buhner calls it. You’ll despise the taste of chlorinated flavour from your urban tap once you’ve tasted the wild water.

The geography of the land lends it hand to us as we don’t require sophisticated water pump systems. Gravity provides good pressure into our pipes which we set up ourselves for the water supply into our bathrooms, kitchen, garden and farmhouse.

Animal Manure

“Why do you keep animals if you don’t eat them?” is a common question we get asked by visitors. The answer lies in their manure. We highly recommend reading the book, ‘Holy Shit’ by Gene Logsdon if you are looking for enlightenment in understanding and appreciating the term, ‘black gold’.

Animal manure is extremely rich form of natural fertilizer for growing our food and enriching the soil.
Our goats, cow and chickens consume their food in the form of weeds and grass from the land.

Apart from helping us control the aggressive vegetation growth of the tropical jungle, they are the best processing plant for fertilizer production. It would take us many hours to cut down as much grass as one cow consumes in a day. And no method is more effective to process such as amount of grass as the cow’s digestive system. At no financial costs too!

Biochar

The local town’s coconut milk sellers throw away way too many coconut shells and husks, in our opinion at least because they are not recycled but taken as thrash to the landfills. What they see as valueless trash, we see as potential charcoal!

We also use woody stalks collected from cutting vegetation around the land to make our own biochar. Biochar is one of our main addition into our planting soil mix given its amazing properties of maintaining and increasing soil fertility.

Compost

The leftovers of organic kitchen wastes, dried uneaten greens together with dessicated coconut from the chickens becomes a rich mulch on our planting grounds. Apart from coconut husks and shells which we collect from the market, we also bring back as chicken food freshly pressed grated coconut that has been extracted which otherwise would be discarded.

Our main activity on the farm is growing food for our own consumption. It is also a big motivating factor to live this way. With our food supply system becoming increasingly corrupted with pesticides, chemicals, fossil fuel fertilizers that produce poor quality mass-produced food for economies of scale.Choosing to grow our own food is the only way we can ensure we have access to the most natural and uncontaminated produce.

Food grown and consumed on the land itself has many pluses. From short storage period, minimal distance from harvest to table and superior nutrients, it can’t get better than self-grown. A sense of immense satisfaction of savoring our own hard work, a direct connection from our own two hands in the soil to the food we consume.

Not intending to become purists, we keep a realistic balance that we can’t grow everything entirely on our own and we still like butter and yogurt very much. Some things we feel are best left to the professionals. In the end the decision boils down to whether it is worth doing or not. 

Our favorite herbalist and ecologist, Stephen Harrod Buhner said, “All the medicines we require for our health are located within 20 kms from where we live.” In other words, the plants that live amongst us can provide us solutions to our health.

Food as our medicine is our priority in keeping healthy. To eat well, balanced meals from naturally grown produce and to stay away from heavily processed food is our daily practice. Growing an increasing collection of mecidinal plants also provide us with a living pharmacy. Although we have our overall health, vitality and immunity to have improved significantly as a direct result of our chosen lifestyle.

“Let thy food be your medicine and medicine be thy food.”Hippocrates

Besides consuming food and herbs, our environment plays a part in our wellbeing. The biorhythm of nature is slower, calmer and more peaceful than the city hustle and rush. When immersed in these surroundings, our inner rhythm entrains to the nature’s rhythm too, keeping us in a calm state with minimal stress. Because working on the farm is physical, our bodies get its regular workout and movement as compare to being in desk-bound job for hours in a day with minimal physical activity. Herding goats up the steep hill is a fabulous cardio workout!

Wellbeing also means directing our energies and work towards a meaningful purpose. Being true and honest to our purpose in this lifetime, to do what feels innately right and not what society deems as right. For us, living in harmony with nature by giving deep it respect and receiving its abundance and blessings is the way that feels truly right plus the ability to share our experience with others by reawakening their dimmed connection to the natural world.

How easy it is to end our thoughts on waste disposal when we hit the toilet flush, move our thrash into the bin outside or when the water drains out of the sink. We don’t need to know where it goes, we have more time to think about which cafe should we go to next.

Grey water

We keep a strict policy of maintaining a chemical-free land, biodegradable dishwashing detergent is a must. However despite its earth-friendliness, we do not discard our kitchen grey water directly into the land. And a bigger no-no, into the stream. Such would be an irresponsible act since the water downstream could still be a source of others. Our grey water is filtered through a reed bed and finally drains into a freshwater fish pond.

Kitchen Waste

We can’t avoid the endless plastic packaging in which majority of thing we buy comes packed in so we have to discard them in the town. For vegetable peels and organic waste, we feed them to our chickens daily and in return, they process it into fertilizer in their manure for us.

Toilet Waste

Courtesy from the old buildings we still have civilized flush toilets and septic tanks as a legacy gift. These tanks have to be manually emptied periodically when they are full and are used strictly on trees and not edible plants to avoid any possible contamination. As an alternate system, dry composting toilets had been built for use with sawdust. Once again full buckets are only emptied onto trees.