Cover Teo and Ngan, the founders of A Little Farm On The Hill

In the second part of our Meet The Makers video series, we meet a couple who left the rat race to set up a sustainable organic farm in Janda Baik

After spending most of their lives enduring the stresses of the city, musician-filmmaker Pete Teo and his wife, architect Lisa Ngan, felt it was time for a change. The couple, who have previously worked in major world metropolises such as London, Hong Kong and Tokyo, wanted to return to the simpler things in life.

In 2014, they got their chance. That year, Teo and Ngan were introduced to a six-acre property located about 40 minutes from Kuala Lumpur, surrounded by the shady forests of Janda Baik, Pahang. Just the perfect place for an organic farm.

“It was a very rudimentary hobby farm then, with nothing more than a few migrant workers planting stuff on a badly managed slope. We fell in love with the potential of the place, took it over, and revamped the operations,” muses Teo.

“It was hard in the beginning. We knew nothing about farming. But we were lucky enough to stumble into a few commercial organic farmers from Cameron who taught us the basics. The rest we learned from books and the Internet. Hence, whenever we tell people that we are Google farmers, we are only half-joking!”

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Today, A Little Farm On The Hill is abundant with harvest, growing about 30 to 40 types of crops at any one time. Walk through its grounds and you’ll probably spot brinjals and heirloom tomatoes, cabbages and chayote, and all manner of leafy Chinese vegetables. The diversity here is a stark contrast to other commercial farms, which prefer keeping their crop types few and manageable.

“We take a different approach to offer our customers a wider range of produce and to keep our soil healthy. Soil health is very important to us. In fact, we look at the farming side of our operation principally as tending to the health of our environment and soil. Once that is accomplished, the plants mostly take care of themselves,” says Teo.

Sustainability is the keyword for everything in this little Eden. Teo and Ngan utilize multiple-use containers when delivering produce, practice organic housekeeping, and recycle their waste through various environmentally-friendly methods. Yet, their core sustainability efforts are focused on the farm’s soil which Teo describes as "the key to everything".

“Healthy soil is one of the top sequesters of greenhouse gases in the eco-system and is vital to our ability to grow food organically and sustainably. Applying compost as our main nutritional input is key to this. Our compost-making facility makes about one ton of compost out of farm and forest waste every month, and all that goes straight back into our planting beds. We also rotate and rest our fields to make sure the microbiology of our soil thrives,” he muses.

The farm currently supplies fresh produce to restaurants such as Atas, Ember, Entier French Dining, Table and Apron, and Dewakan. Its scenic grounds are always abuzz with activities, from cheese-making and gardening classes to yoga sessions and lunch clubs.

A Little Farm On the Hill also features a highly popular farm-to-table restaurant on its premises, with signature dishes such as 12-leaf and herb salad and smoked beef short ribs.

“We now make a conscious effort to use as many local ingredients as possible. Not only does it make sense in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of the food we serve, it also gives a local identity to the cuisine we develop,” says Teo.

“At the moment, about 95% of all the greens we serve are grown here at the farm. All of it is soil-grown and differentiated from most vegetables sold in supermarkets.”

Exciting things are in store for the farm: Teo has plans to hold art spaces and events here over the next twelve months and dreams of hosting a performing arts residency in two years.

It may be A Little Farm On The Hill, but everything here has been the result of big dreams and even bigger efforts. For Teo and Ngan, however, living in a pristine, sustainable environment is a reward on its own.

“The sense of community that characterises our farm, and the work that we do to make our farm feasible gives us motivation and purpose. Doing this really is the best life decision we have ever made,” Teo says.

Meet the Makers is an intimate video interview series in partnership with Volvo, where we speak to the people who make our food and learn what goes on behind the scenes in their industry. 

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