WHEN you’re really into something, whether it’s a sport, a favourite pastime or a lifestyle choice, chances are, you’d want to share this passion with others. And that’s certainly the case with Vera Dingle, who fell in love with organic vegetables after being assigned the task of running an organic farm.
Although she has since left that company to found her own consultancy, she has been bitten by the organic vegetable bug.
Once a month, she runs her own gardening workshop for urbanites to learn how to plant vegetables in their own home, whether it’s a landed property or an apartment. She sees this as her way of giving back to the community.
YOU HAVE A UNIQUE NAME. WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND?
I’m from Sabah and I have Chinese, Indian and Kadazan blood in me.
DID YOU DO A LOT OF GARDENING AS A CHILD?
I didn’t but my father did. He loved gardening and he’d make me help him water the vegetables. I kind of resented that as I wasn’t actually into gardening as a child or as a teen. It’s pretty ironic!
SO HOW DID YOU END UP BEING A VEGETABLE GARDENING ADVOCATE?
It all happened by chance. I was working as the chief operating officer for Terra Garden, a landscaping company, when the boss asked me to run an organic farm the company was getting into. That exposure introduced me to all kinds of organic vegetables and I got hooked. Vegetables never tasted so good! I really wanted to promote organic vegetable gardening to the general public but in my old job I simply didn’t have the time. So I decided to quit and start my own consultancy, which gave me more flexibility of time.
WHAT DOES YOUR CONSULTANCY FOCUS ON?
I’m still involved in landscaping and I offer services related to that. Recently, my consultancy has been engaged by Terra Garden to help them set up a new sales and marketing unit for a new outlet it’ll be launching in the appropriately-named mall: The Gardens. That’s the commercial aspect of what I do. I also run KL Gardening Workshop which is a kind of community service to promote vegetable and herb gardening among Kuala Lumpur urbanites.
HOW IS IT A COMMUNITY SERVICE?
We try not to charge so much. It’s RM148 for the workshop and much of that goes towards the materials given in the workshop. The profits from the workshop go towards doing things like gardening workshops for cancer patients, which we’re working on in collaboration with the Malaysian Cancer Society.
HOW ORGANIC ARE ORGANIC VEGETABLES IN OUR COUNTRY?
It’s hard to say because sometimes even though something is labelled as organic, it really isn’t. There are some unscrupulous suppliers offering fake organic produce which are too cheap to be the real thing. It costs a lot to produce organic food. I know because I have been in the business.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE ORGANIC VEGETABLES?
There are many different definitions out there but to me, organic vegetables are those grown without the use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Simple as that. But it’s expensive to produce. With organic farming, you’ll need five or six people to work an acre. With conventional farming, one worker is all you need to cover as many as three acres. So there’s a huge cost gap there, which is reflected in higher prices.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO SAY ORGANIC FOOD IS SIMPLY TOO COSTLY FOR THEM?
I say plant your own vegetables! It’s easy. Well, I can make it easy for you.
HOW DO YOU KEEP IT EASY?
I have this concept called “gardening in a bag”. Everything one needs to get started will be contained inside a starter’s kit bag. Inside are things like pots, seeds, soil, fertilisers, gloves and a watering bottle. It’s basically an idiot-proof gardening kit.
THERE ARE MANY GARDENING WORKSHOPS AROUND. WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT YOURS?
As a person involved in landscaping, I’m very conscious about aesthetics. So I also look at how gardening can look good, especially if someone wants to do their gardening indoors. Vegetables don’t only grow in soil. Water is a media that some vegetables can grow in. So are pebbles. It depends on the vegetable but I can advise people what to do if they want a garden that’s both edible and aesthetically-pleasing as well.
DO YOU GROW ALL THE VEGETABLES YOU EAT?
No, I only grow the easy ones like sawi, brinjal, okra, chillies and spinach. The difficult ones I buy. These include certain types of herbs like rosemary, thyme and basil, which are difficult to grow. I also find tomatoes and carrots quite challenging so I buy those.
ANY OTHER ADVANTAGES OF GROWING YOUR OWN VEGETABLES BESIDES COST SAVINGS?
When you grow your own vegetables, you tend not to waste them. When you buy vegetables from the supermarket, sometimes you tend to waste parts of them. But with that you grow yourself, you often end up eating as much of it as possible. This is because you know how much time it took for you to grow it. Imagine if it took a month for you to grow that particular vegetable. definitely you won’t waste any part of it.