Triggered by this opinion article published by Straits Times, “Is organic food really free from pesticides?”, we decided to pay Zenxin Organic Park in Johor, Malaysia, a visit. Since we buy so much organic produce from Zenxin in Singapore, we wanted to learn – what makes a farm organic, if the produce are really free from pesticides and why is organic produce good for us?
Before embarking on the farm tour details, I wanted to learn – what makes a farm an organic farm? Since 2008, the Zenxin production chain has been certified organic by NASAA Australia (www.nasaa.com.au), which is accredited by IFOAM, and they strictly comply to the international organic standards. Zenxin’s compost factory is Certified Organic Input Manufacturer, their farms are Certified Organic Producers and their processing houses are Certified Organic Processors. Mr Tai Sengyee, Executive Director of Zenxin Organic, explains that in order to be certified organic, the farm has to fulfill a few main criteria including:
- No synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides
- Natural source of water
- Sustainable system with 10% land set aside for bio-diversity
- All inputs into farm have to be recorded for traceback purposes
The international organic standards are strict and certification can be revoked if a farm is found to be non-compliant. According to Mr Tan Wee Leong, Marketing Manager of Zenxin, Singapore’s AVA tests Zenxin’s produce daily before they are allowed to be sold in Singapore.
So, how do they protect the organic produce without pesticides? I got educated on a few ways of organic farming that minimizes pests they use in Zenxin Organic Farm:
- Crop rotation – Confuse the insects’ dining patterns and also keeps soil health
- Weeding – 70% of the labour work in organic farms is weeding (vs herbicides used in industrial farms)
- Bacillus thuringiensis (or BT), a common soil-dwelling bacterium to control certain insects
- Chilli, vinegar and garlic sprays – Natural repellent
- Yellow sticky glue traps – Attract insects to bright colours where they get trapped
- Blue wrappers around fruits – Repel insects and protect fruits
- Sacrificial trees – Let insects be attracted to that tree to protect the rest of the crops
- Netting in the Green House to keep insects out
I also double checked that Rotenone, that was quoted in the ST Opinion article to be “widely used”, is no longer used in most organic farms due to its harmful effects on nerve cells.
This is a topic that deserves a full entry in itself – but why is organic produce good for us? According to a recent study published in prestigious British Journal of Nutrition, an international team of experts led by Newcastle University has shown that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones.
“With organic methods, the nitrogen present in composted soil is released slowly and therefore plants grow at a normal rate, with their nutrients in balance. Vegetables fertilised with conventional fertilisers grow very rapidly and allocate less energy to develop nutrients.” – Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. Source: www.ncl.ac.uk
Finally, I have been very curious – can washing truly really get rid of pesticides? I found from UK news that “Washing fruit and vegetables does not remove chemical pesticide residues, tests commissioned by Government food watchdogs show.” I also discovered that 30 years after DDT (a pesticide) was banned, 95% of cord blood samples collected from pregnant women still show traces of DDT derivatives. This means that after decades, mothers are still passing on DDT, which they got exposed to via inorganic produce, eating polluted fish, meat or dairy. If pesticides like DDT can reside in our bodies for decades, I doubt it can be washed off so easily with a simple rinse. We do not know the full effects of all the pesticides/fungicides to our health and to the environment, so I would personally be safe than sorry.
Video: 30 years after DDT (a pesticide) was banned, 95% of cord blood samples collected from pregnant women still show traces of DDT derivatives.
“Plants absorb these chemicals directly from their roots and is stored on the inside of the fruit or vegetable – yes, this means that even rinsing your produce thoroughly will not wash away these chemicals. When ingested, they can stay in your body for years.” – from Quan Fa
For those still disturbed by the ST Opinion article, I found these 2 articles written by 2 experienced organic farms helpful for me to understand why it is still worth going organic:
- Crop rotation is still the best way to ward off pests – Straits Times Forum
- Organic farming aspects
Zenxin Organic Park, first opened in 2006, is the largest organic farm (100 acres) in Malaysia. From the Singapore customs, the drive is ~1.5-2 hours, depending on how bad the queue is at both the Singapore and Malaysia customs. Visitors can choose to explore the farm independently, on foot or by bicycle. Zenxin Organic Park also offer guided park tour with in-house tour guide (upon reservation, minimum 20 people) that costs RM10/adult and RM8/child under 12. Since we wanted to learn thoroughly on organic farming methods, we decided to go by foot on the guided tour which took around 1 hour.
The 100-acre park comprises of a huge dragonfruit farm (around 1 hectare), mulberry farm, mushroom house, a huge green house and a happy farm area to educate people how to grow and harvest organic produce. The farm also has tropical fruit crops such as passion fruit, papaya, durian and more than 100 types of herbs.
First up, we visited the organic Dragon Fruit Farm. I learnt that dragon fruits, also known as Pitaya, originate from Mexico, and is part of the cactus family. The dragon fruit plant can bear fruits for 35 years though the plant can last for 100 years. Specifically for this farm, they use chicken dung as fertilizers, processed from a neighbouring organic chicken farm also owned by Zenxin. To keep insects away, the farmers cover each dragon fruit individually with a blue wrapper. Apparently, insects are attracted to bright colours and are less attracted to blue colours. The dragon fruit farm is also sheltered because it gives better yield from each plant.
Next up, we reached the organic Mulberry Farm. Mulberries originate from China (think silkworms!) and is an all season fruit. The darker shade berries are the sweeter ones. So we were encouraged to pluck some to try. This is how fresh it gets! 🙂
The organic Mushroom House is dark and kept at 75% humidity to ensure maximum sporing. In every pack of mushroom, the spores are mixed with sawdust and rice bran and left for the mushrooms to sprout. To minimize insects, spider webs are purposely left in the mushroom house to trap insects. The farmers also plant lemongrass around the mushroom house to repel insects naturally.
At the organic Herb Garden, there are a 100 types of organic herbs. For a typical city girl like me, it was very fun to smell various different types of fresh herbs like mint and basil. I also learnt about traditional herbs like “Cat Whisker” which could control sugar levels.
At the Passionfruit Farm, we got to pluck off a passionfruit to try on the spot! Though it was a little sour because it was not fully ripe, the passionfruit had a very fresh smell and taste to it. It is a really different kind of taste from eating processed food.
We got to experience the real greenhouse effect under a real Greenhouse, where the fruits and vegetables like tomatos and brinjals are grown. It was warm indeed! Harvesting in the greenouse starts at 7am everyday, and by the end of the day, they would have collected ~1 ton of vegetables! That is really hard work indeed.
To end off the tour, we got to try some of the new dishes at Chef-Garden Restaurant, located within Zenxin Organic Park. This is where fresh organic produce is cooked to perfection in local recipes. The stir fried mixed vegetables really showed off the freshness of the crunchy vegetables. The Mixed Salad with Japanese Wafu was tasty (but I personally fished out the chicken). I also liked the Mashed Broccoli balls very much.
We also did our organic shopping in the spacious Zenxin Farm Mart before we headed back to Singapore!
Overall, I am very impressed the Zenxin’s commitment to organic farming that I truly believe will benefit our eco-system in the long term as we leak less and less synthetic fertilizers and chemicals into our soil, water and air. In Zenxin, they took the effort to certify not just their farms as organic, but also their fertilizers and packing centres. This helps to give skeptical consumers like me the guarantee that they are adhering to international standards and being verified by a third part body to stay organic. I am glad they also open their farms to public, which shows transparency to consumers.
Zenxin Organic Park
Address: Plot 47A & 47B, Batu 9, Jalan Batu Pahat, 86000 Kluang, Johor.
Directions and Map
Tel: +60 (7) 7595196, 019-7738985
Costs: Walking Tour = RM10/adult, RM 8/child under 12