How does tilapia help produce organic vege? This Ampang aquaponic farm blooms because of it

(From left) Shum Chong Bon, Yoon Wong, and Chin Kwe Fok began cultivating the farm last year. — Pictures by Firdaus Latif
(From left) Shum Chong Bon, Yoon Wong, and Chin Kwe Fok began cultivating the farm last year. — Pictures by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — For Chin Kwe Fok, the motivation behind setting up an aquaponic farm was simple: A desire to eat healthily.

After speaking with friends at church, he soon realised he wasn’t the only one on the lookout for organic, pesticide-free produce.

The growing demand for clean eating eventually led to the birth of Urban Greenlife farm, run by Chin and six other shareholders including the farm’s co-director Shum Chong Bon and Aquaponics Hardware Asia business development manager Yoon Wong.

Tucked away in a quiet street in Ampang, the farm spans over 3,000 square feet and currently houses a variety of greens including basil, kale, watercress, Japanese cucumber and Brazilian spinach.

It runs on an aquaponic system where nutrient-rich water produced by tilapia is fed to the plants before being recirculated back into the fish tanks.

Crops from ancient civilisations as early as the Aztec Empire are said to have flourished thanks to this method, now used by Chin to grow vegetables without the need for pesticides or chemical fertilisers.

The farm’s success is a result of the mutual health between the plants and the aquatic animals.
The farm’s success is a result of the mutual health between the plants and the aquatic animals.

As consumer awareness about organic produce improves, Chin and his co-directors hope to establish working relationships with nearby restaurants and supply fresh vegetables straight to their kitchens.

“When we talk to people, we see that there is a market out there for organic food.

“People from the church I attend have expressed interest when I told them about the farm and asked if they could buy directly from us. 

“Now we are trying to make the system stable so we can maintain supply to keep up with the demand,” Chin told Malay Mail.

It’s been an uphill battle working on the farm as balance is of utmost importance; if one element falters, the rest of the operation soon follows.

The farm has a strict rule on avoiding chemicals as they can seep into the water and pose a fatal risk to the fish once the fluid recirculates back into their tanks.

Similarly, the tilapia need to be fed and monitored with meticulous care to ensure the health of the plants is not compromised. 

The roots of the plant are immersed in nutrient-rich water that gets fed to them from the tilapia tank.
The roots of the plant are immersed in nutrient-rich water that gets fed to them from the tilapia tank.

It currently costs around RM4,000 per month to maintain the farm, a bargain considering its proximity to the city centre.

Aquaponic farming also saves water and produces minimal waste, making it cost-efficient in the long run.

By chance, the landowner happened to be a fish lover, making it easier for the Urban Greenlife team to get a headstart when with rearing tilapia.

“We were lucky because the owner of the lot likes to keep fish, so the place came with a pond already built inside.

“He did all the renovations and didn’t charge anything,” said Chin.

As Urban Greenlife continues to sprout new opportunities for its owners, Chin hopes to inspire Malaysians to move towards healthier eating by making aquaponic produce more accessible and affordable.

To find out more about Urban Greenlife, surf over to their Facebook page.

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