When the Movement Control Order (MCO) was first enacted, many communities saw firsthand how unstable their food supplies truly are. Thus, following the MCO’s easing up, urban-dwellers in the Klang Valley have taken to community gardening as a means of providing themselves with a self-sustainable food source during times of uncertainty. We look at how these community gardens began and whether they can truly provide the food and income their communities need.
A Green Space For The Community
A community garden is a piece of land that is cultivated by a group of people individually or collectively. Creating a community garden is a group effort, requiring an organised committee of interested people with a common goal in mind. Next is to find a sponsor for the project, available resources (e.g. seed crops, water etc.) and a suitable site. The process is long and arduous, requiring much communication and teamwork, but the results are ultimately satisfying.
Many community gardens were established well before the Covid-19 pandemic, as a place where communities can band together to grow a steady supply of chemical-free food, create a place to compost food waste and build togetherness.
One such place is the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Edible Community Garden (TTDIECG) located on Lorong Burhanuddin Helmi 11. Originally started by another group back in 2013 before being abandoned, the garden was revived by the current committee – comprising chairperson Margaret Lee, garden manager Kernail Singh and liaison manager Kee Joo Yee – in 2017.
We decided to revive the project because of our interests in gardening and the benefit of having our own community garden. It took us several tries before we got a breakthrough via support from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).
A TTDI resident who was a former DBKL officer managed to connect us with DBKL’s Local Agenda 21 (LA21) and through them, we got a significant amount of help in terms of funding, raw materials and education courses. – Margaret Lee,Taman Tun Dr Ismail Edible Community Garden (TTDIECG) chairperson
Since then, the TTDIECG has expanded into a 15,000sq ft (1,393sq m) space with 200 to 300 types of plants including fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables.
There are currently 21 community gardens in the Klang Valley alone. But garden enthusiast and former health writer Chan Li Jin, who founded the Subur Community Gardens, says that there is space for more and she hopes to see more community gardens spring up in every neighbourhood in the Klang Valley.
Like TTDIECG, Subur was founded for the purpose of bringing communities together to grow their own food while also learning about gardening and getting in touch with nature.
One of the things I often tell people is that you will never feel the same way about life once you have eaten something that you have planted yourself. Do you know how people discard the chopped chillies, spring onions, garlic or tomatoes that are used to flavour or garnish dishes?
If you have experienced the process of growing it from seed, you will have renewed respect for those little bits of vegetables! They are different because you can taste the original and authentic taste of vegetables that are grown pesticide-free. – Chan Li Jin, garden enthusiast and former health writer
Though the MCO had made maintaining community gardens more difficult, it also highlighted their importance as a stable food source and a place for communion in an uncertain time.
More Food For Everyone
Providing a stable and reliable low-cost source of fresh, healthy food is one of the primary reasons why a community garden is established. Indeed, the MCO has proven that community gardens can serve as a vital source of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs during a time when movement is restricted, markets are closed and food supplies are disrupted.
With the lockdown, people now realise how important it is to have basic gardening knowledge so that they don’t have to run out (and risk catching Covid-19) just because they need to buy a sprig of coriander, kesum or lemongrass! – Chan Li Jin, garden enthusiast and former health writer
Because of this, community gardens also play a vital role in providing food to vulnerable groups such as the homeless or people whose jobs were affected by the pandemic.
The Mutiara Magna Community Garden in Kepong, for example, served as a steady and low-cost source of fresh food for those deprived of their monthly incomes by the MCO while the non-profit Kebun-Kebun Bangsar donates its produce to refugees, orphanages, the homeless and other underprivileged groups.
The [then] current COVID-19 pandemic that led to the country implementing the MCO underlines the importance of food security. Community gardens or edible gardens are seen as ways to overcome food shortages apart from developing a resilient community and connecting society with the environment. – Dr K Kalithasan, River of Life Public Outreach Programme Phase 5 (ROLPOP5) Project Manager
As an additional benefit, community gardens can also help reduce the amount of food wastage via composting food waste, effectively recycling the nutrients back into the produce.
Profiting The Community In Multiple Ways
The commercialisation of community gardens seems obvious given that there are many profits to be made in freshly-grown, chemical-free fruits and vegetables. That was what Federal Territories Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Rosida Jaafar was thinking when she announced the commercialization of products from community gardens .
According to her, products like local ‘kelulut‘ honey, cincau and vegetables will be commercialised by the ministry and Putrajaya Corporation with the assistance of the Malaysian Agricultural Research Development Institute (MARDI) and the Agriculture Department.
They (operators) must make (garden communities) as a business and not only for basic necessities. – Datuk Seri Rosida Jaafar, Federal Territories Ministry secretary-general
With people still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, the authorised selling of community garden produce will certainly provide communities with a steady source of income.
Currently, most of the workforce in community gardens is composed of volunteers, which has been proven to be fairly unreliable during times of limited mobility such as the MCO.
With community gardens flourishing in this day and age, there is an opportunity for long-term employment in areas such as delivery, maintenance, public relations and communication, creating new job opportunities and providing essential services to these urban green spaces.
Togetherness In Gardening
Of course, we must not forget the ‘community’ part of community gardens. Whether they are there as visitors or volunteers, people visiting these urban green spaces will be able to connect with nature, escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life, gain much-needed exercise and sunlight, and learn vital gardening skills for their own home gardens.
Those who volunteer at the garden obviously gain so much sunshine, exercise and knowledge about the growth and maintenance of plants as well as how to get rid of bugs and pests… The benefits also include character building, managing mental stress, and building knowledge of farming in residents’ houses and condos. – Margaret Lee,Taman Tun Dr Ismail Edible Community Garden (TTDIECG) chairperson
Community gardening will also provide a social space for everyone, especially senior citizens, to connect with each other and find new, digital-free uses for their spare time, all while surrounded by the wonders of nature.
Kebun-Kebun Bangsar, for example, has been cited as a place where people from all walks of life can congregate and share ideas, sowing bonds between strangers and raising awareness of the importance of sustainability, nature and civic-mindedness.
People from all walks of life, races and nationalities come to learn and exchange ideas as a community, that’s what’s happening here. There’s a sense of belonging. – BK Ng, 60, resident living near Kebun-Kebun Bangsar
With MCO restrictions being loosened, there is a growing concern that people and communities will lose interest in community gardening, especially since they can now purchase their fruits and vegetables from markets once again. As such, we should consider finding new and equally satisfying ways of keeping these green spaces alive such as planting perennials or rearing animals like fish, ducks or chickens.
… we can keep the interest alive by planting perennials (such as tapioca, fruit trees, lemongrass and ornamental plants), which require less care and are equally satisfying to grow. – Chan Li Jin, garden enthusiast and former health writer
As a demonstration of Malaysia’s success in creating a place for community gardening, several of the country’s community gardens emerged as the top three finalists or won special commendations in various categories in the Placemaker Asean Awards (PAA) 2021. These included TTDIECG, Kebun Kita in Section 3, Old Town, Petaling Jaya; Mid Valley River Three Park in Kuala Lumpur; and Precinct 16 Community Garden in Putrajaya.
In a world where people are slowly being disconnected from nature, community gardens play a crucial role, not just in providing a stable source of fresh food but also in ensuring that urban-dwellers have a place to form new connections, reaffirm old bonds and find new meaning in their lives. They have created a new generation of people looking to bond with nature and contribute to positive environmental change through the communal bonds they have built.
Community gardens provide not just food security but also build community togetherness. – Kee Joo Yee, Taman Tun Dr Ismail resident
Visit Community Gardens Near You
Here is a list of community gardens in the Klang Valley. Feel free to visit or contact them if you are interested:
- Kebun Komuniti USJ12
- TTDI Edible Community Garden
- Subur Community Gardens
- Mutiara Magna Community Garden, Kepong
- Kebun-Kebun Bangsar
- Kebun Komuniti 4 Putrajaya; KK4 Presint 14 Putrajaya
- Friends of Sungai Klang Mid Valley River Three
- D’Hamlet Garden at USJ 16 – Community Garden
- Kebun Komuniti Hartamas
Cover image: Malay Mail/Margaret Lee
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- S Ming.(2021). Case Study Series: Kebun-Kebun Bangsar. Urban Biodiversity Initiative. Link.
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