Growing own food to save money

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DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES: As the cost of living continues to skyrocket, more and more urban families have decided to grow their own vegetable gardens at home to cushion the burden of heavier grocery bills, writes Tan Choe Choe

Hee Mee Kien's home in Salak South New Village, just 10 minutes from the heart of Kuala Lumpur, has no lawn to speak of.

There is only a bit of a backyard and a front yard that are covered in grey concrete. But this has not deterred Hee and her husband from growing their own vegetables.

The couple, who used to eat out often with their two daughters, aged 15 and 6, has had enough of spiralling food prices.

"One day, a small fu yong omelette costs RM7. The next day, it will cost RM8. They told us they had to raise prices because of the petrol price hike, but the increase in the price of some items is just too ridiculous," she recounted.

So Hee and her husband decided to spend more time cooking at home.

"Some hypermarkets sell cheap vegetables but they taste very bitter even though they have been washed numerous times. We think too much pesticide has been used on them.

"On top of that, we have to contend with the parking and the crowd. It's a huge headache at the end of the day, with many hidden costs involved, including petrol," added Hee.

So in the middle of last year, Hee and her husband decided to dedicate their weekend to growing their own vegetables.

"We take some soil from the hedges around our home. It is surprisingly rich and loamy. We enrich it with some organic fertiliser, like chicken droppings from a neighbour who rears some in his backyard. It has worked out quite well for us," said Hee.

Now, beautiful heads of sawi grow in makeshift red brick boxes that are filled with the loamy soil, all around her front yard.

Growing near them are some spring onions, a chilli plant, a couple of pots of ginger, a few bunches of Chinese chives, and some budding parsley.

"It's surprisingly easy. The sawi can grow and mature in about a month. This is our fifth replant. We have given a lot of extras to relatives and passing neighbours and they all like the freshness and juiciness of our vegetables," Hee shared with a happy grin, adding that some friends liked her sawi so much that they have dubbed Hee the 'Sawi Queen'.

One friend even offered to buy them from her, praising her crop as a top-quality organic produce.

"I thought she was joking of course, so I declined her offer."

Instead, she and her husband continue giving whatever extras that their family can't eat to others for free.



In an old double-storey house in Salak South Garden, in Kuala Lumpur, a middle-income urban family that has been lamenting the rising prices of food items have also started their own vegetable patch - with the help and expertise of their Cambodian maid.

"I have never farmed before in my life so we never thought we'd be able to grow our own vegetables. My previous experience with flowers taught me that I don't have a green thumb so I shied away from it. But our maid, who has been with us for over four years now, told us one day last year that she would teach us," shared Cherrie Kwan when met.

Kwan's 5-year-old daughter, Tan Ming Wei, has also proven to be a particularly enthusiastic partner in the endeavour.

When the New Sunday Times visited their home, the little girl was found hard at work with her nanny, Borin Nuth, on their vegetable patch in the backyard.

Occasional shrieks of 'Worm, che che (big sister), I found another worm!' could be heard as she helped with the weeding.

"Borin tells us what type of soil to get to enrich our rather dry patch at home. She tells us what types of vegetables are suitable, and also what tools we need. We buy and then pitch in to help when we can. All in all, she is our supervisor in this project," Kwan added with a laugh.

"I mostly take care of Ming Wei and her younger baby brother, Kuan Yew. I also do some chores at home but when I am free, I will weed and plant and water with Ming Wei and my boss. My parents are farmers and I used to help them at home," said Borin with a shy smile.

Borin's garden, as the family calls it, boasts a flourishing bed of sweet potatoes, water convolvulus', some succulent king vegetable shoots (daiwongmiu) in a bricked-up box, pandan leaves, spring onions, chillies, lemongrass, and two crawler plant additions: cucumbers and pumpkins.

"My youngest is just a little over 10 months. We feed him organic vegetables blended into oatmeal or porridge most of the time. Even for Ming Wei, we try to give her the best and freshest vegetables.

"But things are getting so expensive. But now that we have started farming and harvesting our own produce, I get to ensure that he eats well and safely, as well as save money. It's totally satisfying," added Kwan.

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