It is a most unlikely partnership — comprising plumbing specialist Jimmy Choong, 40, design and build contractor Tan Chee Boon, 47, and baby-faced, fresh-out-of-school Voon Keen Choong, 22 — but the team at Wi Farm KL obviously has a good thing going. Founded on the simple desire to make fresh, good-quality hydroponically-grown vegetables affordable to all, the trio is out to show Malaysians that you do not need to be wealthy to eat healthily.
Considering the average cost of organic veggies, with the added monkey wrench in the form of regular price increases due to the rising costs of gasoline, energy, congested shipping and general bad weather patterns thrown into the equation, Wi Farm has been a boon to the Klang Valley folk who have chanced upon the fledgling brand. Everything listed on its buying guide — all the verdant staples you would see in a Malaysian kitchen — is priced at either RM5 or RM6 per 350g bundle. In total, there are 22 items for sale, including two types of spinach, choy sum, bok choy, nai pak choy, kangkung and kailan. Organic green lime and coral lettuce are offered whenever possible.
Starting out with just RM100,000 in seed money, Wi Farm was established in June this year and already enjoys a steady customer base made up of Klang Valley residents who relish the reasonable prices, tasty greens and free delivery (for orders above RM40). “It’s our MCO baby,” says Voon, the most outspoken and ebullient of the three. “When Covid-19 hit and money became a key focus for many families, eating well and healthily suddenly became out of reach for most people. Also, the supply chain hit a snag. You’d go to the supermarket on some days to see zero vegetables on the shelves. We wanted to change that. We wanted to help and also fill a niche in the market for quality organic and hydroponic greens. Everyone should be able to buy the best-quality vegetables at affordable prices. This is now the main pillar of Wi Farm.”
Currently operating out of a 15,000 sq ft urban farm in the heart of Sungai Besi, with two more plots in Sabak Bernam, Wi Farm is doing well enough to prepare to move to bigger premises, spanning four acres, in Sungai Buloh next year. “We started from zero, growing the veggies from seeds with only a few racks to begin with, as there was not much else to do when the pandemic struck,” Voon observes. “Jimmy and Tan were experimenting as they both share a common interest in farming and agriculture while I was keen to step into a new industry.”
I had returned from studying in Sydney and was just dabbling in a few things. I had done an internship with Dialog Bhd, worked as a management trainee with Colony Co-Working Space, dabbled in the furniture and e-commerce industries and even went into the financial sector to learn more about how financing works in Malaysia. Then, the MCO hit! But the situation made us realise that there was an opportunity and much potential for the agriculture sector and we were aware of the strengths we could collectively bring to the table.”
A stroll through the urban farm is a charming reminder of what fulfilling work toiling with Mother Nature can be. Although located near a busy highway and surrounded by towering buildings, it feels serene. There is an abundance of leafy greens neatly planted in rows that are soothing to the eye while small ponds filled with tilapia and a few resident geese (they make great guards) and chooks add to the farmyard atmosphere. In a corner are racks of vegetables Wi Farm is contemplating adding to its list of available produce, including okra. There is even an experimental patch of paddy.
Jimmy, who has a particular fondness for rearing fish, ducks and chickens, has also built small cages to house his ever-growing menagerie, which includes guinea fowls, turkeys and quails.
But with regard to the new site in Sungai Buloh, the trio have bigger plans in mind. “We haven’t completely finalised things yet but the idea is the new Wi Farm headquarters will be a visitor’s farm … a place where you can harvest your own vegetables, buy seedlings that are ready to plant in days or weeks and even have a cup of coffee. We definitely want a café on site but haven’t yet decided who we will work with to run it,” says Voon. “The demand for such a destination is definitely there, especially since many people still aren’t ready to travel. So we want to make it fun for people — families, couples, young and old — to participate in getting their supply of greens while making a day of it.”
Although the farm is barely half a year old, the founders have already drawn up a full expansion plan. “Another idea we want to reintroduce is the mobile pasar,” Voon shares. “Especially in our parents’ time, there used to be these modified pick-up trucks filled to the brim with all sorts of ingredients and produce a housewife might need, from fish to bean curd, fresh eggs and salted vegetables. These sellers would visit neighbourhoods on a regular schedule and it would be a place for people to gather, catch up on news while stocking up on good things.
"We want to bring that idea and sense of nostalgia back with a whole fleet of converted delivery vans dedicated to servicing local housing areas or even condominium developments. The lockdowns have brought communities closer than ever before. People have realised they don’t have to drive or go far to get all the things they need to live a good, wholesome lifestyle. We hope this mobile pasar steps in to fill another niche for Malaysians.”
Listening to their enthusiastic good intentions, we sincerely hope so too.
This article first appeared on Oct 11, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.