Tenom Farmstay, healthier food and planet with Integrated Farming
Some city kids are very afraid of chicken though they eat a lot of KFC. “Apple” is probably the first English word pupils learn but they have never seen an apple tree. Though our young generation is no longer required to get their hands dirty in the farm today, we must let them understand how agriculture works, as it’s the most important knowledge for survival of mankind. We can’t improve things that we don’t know.
Pic: Tenom farmstay with pineapples in front
Run by Tham’s brothers in Sapong, Tenom Farmstay is about 12 Kilometres away from Tenom town (Ladang Batu 10, Jalan Kemabong) of Sabah interior (see Location Map). It’s a 35-acre real farm that practices organic farming and open for people who want to experience authentic farm life. Besides, they also bring their guests to volunteer in local community projects and interact with the local people.
Pic: Neem tree outside the house. It is a natural mosquito repellent.
Different from other farms, Tenom Farmstay is an integrated farming with the concept of diversifying the crops / livestock and making them to complement one another. For example, the manure from animals can be recycled as fertilizer for the crops. The end result is the creation of multiple recurring income streams and more sustainable organic farming.
Pic: lime orchard produces 200 Kg of fruit monthly
The owner, Tham Yau Siong took us to tour around his farm, which is thriving with pineapples, tapioca, calamansi, banana and other crops. He supplies fruits and vegetables to market as far as Kota Kinabalu city and also gives some to his friends. (Note: many mosquitoes in orchard, do bring insect repellent)
Pic: Calamondin fruit (Limau Kasturi in Malay language)
Calamondin fruit is in good demand because its sweet and sour juice (locally known as Kik Cai Ping) is the favorite drink of Sabahans.
Pic: Aroid plant
What surprised me was – I found corpses flowers in his plantation. This flower (a.k.a. Samurai Flower) is a close relative to titan arum in Sumatra, a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. According to Alim from Sabah Parks. it is Amorphophallus lambii, a plant under the family Araceae. There are 5 species of such flower in Borneo. FYI, Amorphophallus means “misshapen penis” in Greek.
Pic: beautiful stem of Amorphophallus lambii
Samurai Flower takes many years to bloom and I was not in time for its flowering. Anyway, it is still worth taking a close look. Its trunk is actually part of its leaf structure. If you squeeze its soft stem, you can feel layers of leaves under its skin, what a peculiar plant. I never expect to see such natural wonder in a farm and there are 6 of them! Tham said someone told him that he could charge people entrance fee to see this flower.
We kept on walking and enter a mini “forest” on a slope. Tham keeps slope area of his farmland forested, for conservation and as a buffer zone to prevent soil erosion. Sometimes wildlife such as mouse deer and eagle forages here.
Pic: this giant tree is the highlight of this forest. It’s a softwood that called “包皮青” in Chinese (literally translated as Wrapped Green Skin). Please tell me if you know its identity.
This tree looks like a long-necked Sauropod dinosaur from a close distance. There are a few other beautiful tall trees too and Tham decides not to cut them down.
Pic: stand of 5-acre forest in the plantation
Shortly we came to an open space and walked among large area of banana and Sabah vege (Sayur Manis in Malay language) plantation, and also passed by a lush grassland, which is the food stock for his goats. Probably Tenom was used to be the floodplain of Padas River, so the soil is fertile, making Tenom one of the most important agricultural area in Sabah. Both lowland and highland crops seem to grow well in Tenom.
Pic: 7 acres of grasses for goat farming
Tenom is also famous for its pomelo, avocado and coffee. Unlike greedy farmers who always aim to maximize profit by using a lot of chemical fertilizers, Tham uses goat dung from his farm instead, it is more organic and save him 70% of money spent on fertilizer.
Pic: a super-tall papaya tree in the farm
He prioritizes the well-being of the environment and consumers over the money, which makes his integrated farm more sustainable. This reminds me of the 3P model (People, Planet and Profit). Tham proves that winning for People-Planet-Profit is attainable with mixed farming.
“Nothing is illegal if a hundred businessmen decide to do it.” Well what’ll go wrong if people are obsessed with money? Just look at the recent cases like the use of gutter oil and plasticizing agent in our food and drink. Feed your chicken with unwashed vegetables and they will turn blind in weeks. When fruit juice is not real juice, fat is not real fat (trans fat), food issues become a world crisis. We have been putting highly-processed or harmful food into our mouth. How many “real” food are there in the market? I think “Food Education” is more important than Sex Education now. Consumer is the key force to drive the change. We are no longer afford to say, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” It’s time to question how our food is made.
Pic: a high ground area with nice view of the farm, forest and mountain. A chalet will be built here.
Besides 8 acres of orchard and vegetable farm that provides fresh banana, Sabah Vege (Sayur Manis), pineapple, durian, mangosteen and various other crops, Tham also owns a 16-acre oil palm plantation.
These oil palm is mainly nourished by goat dung from Tham’s farm, which cut down the need for chemical fertilizer significantly. Moreover, he keeps a long vegetation zone between the river and his plantation, to prevent fertilizer causing pollution to the river. As a matter of fact, oil palm can be environmentally friendly if planted correctly.
Pic: Brian (Tham’s nephew) holding a big pumpkin from the farm
Tham says it is very satisfying if you cultivate your crops with heart, and everyone can enjoy your healthy food worry free. Looking at his happy face, I have no doubt he is a good man rich in economic and inner wealth. I know some farmers who don’t dare to eat their own crop due to heavy use of pesticides. I wouldn’t sleep well if I were them.
Pic: Tham Yau Kong (left) shows us the formula to cure cancer with the leaves and fruit of Guyabano.
Then we met his brother, Tham Yau Kong in the orchard, he is a no-nonsense but a very friendly and kind man. He travels to a lot more places in Sabah than I do. He has climbed Mt. Tambuyukon numerous times as if it’s in his backyard. He still works in tourism industry and comes back to this farm regularly.
Next we checked out the fertilizer factory, no.. I meant the goat farm. You might think that Tham Yau Siong is a farmer since the beginning. Nope. He was a financial controller. When economy turned bad in late 90s, he returned to Tenom and started his farm in 2004. He saw the potential of goat farming. With 0 experience, he ventured into goat rearing in 2005 after he took a 1-week course conducted by Veterinary Department.
He started with 6 goats and now he has about 300 goats in his farm and even won the Successful Breeder Award (Sabah) in 2010. Most important of all, he finds meaning in his new business and really love his job. His success story is an inspiration to those who only want to stay in comfort zone.
Pic: Tham shares his secret recipe on goat’s diet. The mulberry leaves in the photo is a natural multi-vitamin for goat. Tham also feeds his goats with Jackfruit leaves that can de-worm and high-fibre oil palm leaves that keep their guts healthy. This eliminates the needs for chemical and synthetic nutrients injection.
In contrast to what I imagine, his goat feedlots are clean, well-ventilated and well-lit. It doesn’t smell bad at all. Hundred of goats started bleating like baby when they saw us approaching, so cute.
The goats are so adorable and look like smiling. In Sabah, about 85% of the lamb is imported (as frozen meat from Australia and New Zealand), so it is demand over supply hence a huge market. Tham stressed, “Everyone needs food and world population is growing, so food supply is getting scarce and becoming more and more expensive, so you won’t go wrong producing food.”
There are 3 types of goats in his farm, namely, Ferrel and Boar goats, and 3rd kind is a cross-breed of these two Australian breeds. It takes about 6 months for the goat to grow to the marketable size of 25 Kg. Each goat can be sold for RM1,000 in Brunei, quite a lucrative business as every goat costs less than RM300 to raise. The advantage of Sabah is that our livestock has no foot and mouth disease problem, so exporting them to other countries is easy.
Pic: Tham shows us how a healthy goat looks like. This goat seems pleased.
Male goat can mate 3 times in a minute. Though “fast” it is impressive. Most guys believe mutton is good for men. I even made fun of its big “sperm tank” in one of my blog lol.
Pic: the goat is so happy and playful, as if it sees its father.
Pic: a goat tried to eat my pant. Want to keep a goat as pet? Think twice.
Goat eats anything. “You better rear them behind the fence. If you let them wander around, they will eat plastic, cloth, rubbish and everything. Their meat will smell bad,” Tham smiled and said.
Pic: the by-product of goat farm, organic fertilizer
His goats produces 1,000 bags of goat dung per month. Each sack weighs 30 Kg, and Tham sells 200 bags for RM20 each every month, generating a side income of RM4,000. He uses the rest of the goat dung for his farm, saving him a ton of money. FYI, chemical fertilizer costs RM5 per 400g, which is far more pricey.
After a long walk, we were hungry and Tham prepared a yummy Kampung (village) lunch for us. We had some rice, pumpkin, Sabah vege and chicken. Somehow I felt the food tasted better when I knew that they were fresh from the farm.
The soy sauce chicken meat tastes really delicious. I think it’s the famous Maize Chicken of Tenom, another high-quality product by Tenom farmer. The chicken is fed with corn instead of cheap pellets, so its skin appears yellowish and the meat is sweet, springy and less fatty.
Pic: soy sauce chicken
Tenom Farmstay welcomes anyone who wants to experience farm life to stay there. They have been receiving many student groups, especially from UK. The youngsters will be kept busy doing real works. Instead of being a braggart in social media, they gain more pride by doing volunteer work to help the local community.
The farmstay has 6 rooms with fan and bunk beds, and able to host up to 30 people. The fee is RM60 per night (≈US$18.50) (normally it is a 2-Day-1-Night package). Tham joked, “the large quantity of fruits they can eat here is already worth more than that.”
Pic: the room of the farmstay
Pic: toilet and bathroom
Pic: BBQ area
If you are interested in Farmstay, you may contact TYK Adventure Tours for more info:
Name: Padas Farmstay or Tenom Agro Paradise Farmstay
Address (office): Block E, Lot 38, 2nd Floor, Damai Plaza IV, Luyang, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: (6088) 232821
E-mail: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Below is the leaflet of the farmstay:
To see more photos of Tenom Farmstay, you may browse my photo album.
Photos taken in Tenom, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo