UNITAR University students during sustainability lesson. (Photo: Jan Zygmuntowski)

UNITAR University students during sustainability lesson. (Photo: Jan Zygmuntowski)

A group of Western farmers buying tobacco in their muddy clothes and straw hats is a common sight in Kuala Selangor, a small town just one hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur.

The Kebun Kaki Bukit project is an experimental organic farm and natural building center that attracts volunteers from across the world.

Founded by Arafat Sharipudin the place serves both international guests and locals.

Kebun Kaki Bukit spans six acres of land full of agro-forest, food gardens and water canals. It’s an island in a sea of palm oil plantations.

I arrive right in time for the breakfast and after the morning coffee it’s time to work.

After an open discussion the volunteers decide to focus today on mud mixing for the house they build.

Gordon Schultz is 23-years-old American who has been here for 6 months:

“Right now the biggest project is the mudhouse that we have going, we’ve also done a lot of other building with mud or bamboo, different materials, we’re composting a lot, we have a permaculture garden that is, you know, under way and producing quite a lot now, there are various fruit trees and stuff as well,” he said.

But apart from the physical work, he also sees the more profound meaning of what he does.

“So, the way we run things is very communal and collective, because we are… spend all this time together, working together, eating together, playing together, there’s no real top-down power structure, it is very anarchic in the best way, so we all work together when we feel like working together. There is no one telling us: you have to work now, you have to do this now and so it’s very free and this is one of the reasons I really love this place being here for so long.”

Malaysian Arafat Sharipudin is the mastermind behind Kebun Kaki Bukit.

He used to work in IT company in Kuala Lumpur, but a couple of years ago he decided to change his life.

“I feel I need a different kind of life than the normal urban life because I like to explore a lot more things about myself, about my surroundings, about nature. I think with living the 9-5 urban life I will never achieve this,” he said.

Having traveled volunteered and learned farming he returned to Malaysia to set up his own farm.

Kebun Kaki Bukit has now been running for just over a year. The landowner let Arafat lead the project on an unused land and pay with the produce – mainly sugar cane, pineapples and coconuts.

Also the volunteers contribute a few ringgits per day to maintain the tools and get the goods they don’t grow.

“The idea of setting up of this farm is trying to live a sustainable life, a lot of experimentation because we don’t know what’s gonna happen next for us, but for me, my personal view in setting up this farm is I wanted to be kinda up list, when myself and everyone else can come to explore a different way of life, a sustainable way of life and at the same time bloom or grow together as a community. At the same time all the people who come to stay at this farm can achieve a lot more by bringing new ideas and new ways of doing things. That’s the main idea,” he said.

Almost every week new people come to the farm, farmers, gardeners and permaculture experts.

Farrah Schwab is from South Africa. By traveling the world and working on farms she can practically study permaculture, which is the science of designing ecological farming that resembles the natural ecosystems.

“For me permaculture is not only just a body of knowledge but it’s a way of life and it helps me find more active way to put my belief system into practice. And all of the sudden everything that I believe in now manifested, I’m not just doing things behind the scene but I’m actually doing something on the ground, that’s making a visible difference,” she said.

Today the farm has a visit of the Malaysian Waldorf Enrichment School, a private elementary school focusing on practical life skills.

They help with gardening and make pizza in a clay oven.

Julia, the founder of the school, believes that the farm is a great place to bring the children.

“They are mostly living in the city, they watch a lot of TV and so getting them close to the nature is something that will help them,” she said.

Around 4 PM first blow of wind comes, a herald of the evening rain.

We all hide in the living area and meet again for the dinner.

I talk late into night with Arafat Sharipudin about the impact he wants to have on the world.

I go to sleep in one of the old shipping containers recycled into a sleeping space.

The frog singing sets me to sleep.
 

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