[Astro Awani] CityFarm's Jayden Koay: Let The Lettuce Bloom, Even When There's Little Room
Growing and harvesting vegetables for one’s own consumption within the confines of a city environment has been an idea that has always been sown about but seldom germinated to take root to full fruition.
But thanks to the efforts of Jayden Koay and his trio of friends – Johanson Chew, Low Cheng Yang and Looi Choon Beng; you can grow lettuce and an assortment of similarly leafy vegetables in any confined or limited space, without the need for a lease on a single square inch of terra firma.
We wouldn’t want to have abandoned farms with a lot of food wastage. It’s challenging trying to get that message across to a lot of potential investors
Koay along with his early collaborators and now partners came up with the idea of CityFarm over their weekly teh tarik sessions at a mamak restaurant.
Urban farming is where farming or gardening occurs within a city environment. What started out as just a hobby for Koay and his partners, is now a thriving business with established clients.
“I studied Electrical Engineering and so did all my partners, we’re basically a group of engineers rather than farmers. People would often ask me why stray into urban farmer when you have an engineering degree?”
“But ‘urban’ farming requires you to work with high end technology that provides solutions to grow plants and vegetables. So, in a way I still think I’m in the right path,” Koay laughs.
Founded in 2016, CityFarm Malaysia is located in Seri Kembangan, selling a range of vegetables as well urban farming start up kits, fertilizers, grow lights and more.
It utilises hydroponics as a basic farming method that grows vegetables without using any soil. Mineral nutrient solution is used instead.
Investors have been excited to invest but Koay and his partners are extremely specific when selecting the right one.
"We often get investors knocking on our doors, willing to invest. They like the idea of urban farming but they don’t think about what comes after the growing stage? Where does it all go? That is the big question.”
“For someone who wants to come on board this industry and be apart of CityFarm Malaysia, they need to have a clear direction, these are not decorative plants, these are perishable items.”
“We can’t accept you as an investor without knowing what these vegetables are grown for or how they are going to be sold. We wouldn’t want to have abandoned farms with a lot of food wastage. It’s challenging trying to get that message across to a lot of potential investors,” says Koay.
Our role in the Agricultural Industry
Koay studied Electrical Engineering at Multimedia University in Cyberjaya. He then worked for an American oil and gas company as a telecommunications engineer. He says his previous job was not without headaches especially during oil downturn in 2014. Buffeted by the stress of his employment Koay picked up urban farming.
“Back then, my partners had purchased an urban farming system off Ebay. He’d put it in his office and it was a symbol of our entrepreneurial dream in hopes of one day start something of our own.”
“It started out as a hobby, but it became really addictive when I first laid eyes on an indoor grow light. I was so curious because that was something so amazing and new to me.”
“It was quite a tough time for me when I left my job at first. We created a joke saying since we have no earnings we should just plant our own veggies to survive,” laughs Koay.
Koay explains that CityFarm Malaysia started out with a simple intention, which was to grow, harvest and eventually sell the vegetables.
“CityFarm Malaysia has been positioned into a role where we have to ensure the industry is growing. So, we are working very hard with our clients to make sure the agriculture industry survives in Malaysia.”
“Our clients are the ones who provide the capital and investments. They are also responsible for selling our produce. By doing so work is distributed evenly amongst different companies,” states Koay.
Consuming vegetables that endure less travel time is known to be much fresher and more potent. Koay hopes that CityFarm Malaysia will help Malaysians to be more cautious when it comes to buying their daily dose of greens.
“Malaysians should know where their food comes from," says Koay.
Source (Interview video available here)
- Choon Beng Looi