Like most people who got into organic foods, Michael Christian Simon, founder of Homegrown Productions, just wants his family and himself to eat healthier. “You just want the best for your family, so I put my head down, and thought: ‘hey, you produce TV shows. What’s so different from producing vegetables?’” he says.
Michael would say that he is no farmer, but what has sprouted from his own farm are not just organic vegetables, but the seeds of an idea to turn aquaponics into something that will decentralize farming in Malaysia.
He founded Homegrown Farms in 2017 with his wife, a former journalist, as a way to serve a group of people who want to eat healthily but cannot seem to afford organic produce. While farming, he found that soil-based crops have a tendency to get attacked by pests. He initially warded them with their own natural concoctions of pest deterrents, but research led him to discover aquaponics.
Michael is not too caught up with the “sexiness” of indoor farming. “We’re not the AeroFarms of the world,” he quips. Instead, Michael trusts in the 365 days of sun a tropical country like Malaysia brings, opting to make his system more effective outdoors while eliminating the carbon footprint needed for indoor farming to thrive.
He began experimenting on different crops and larger systems, too, designing a 20-foot x 20-foot system that allows for paddy to grow aquaponically. As it is a vertical system, there is a cavity in the middle that allows farmers to grow mushrooms alongside the paddy.
Michael received his first harvest of paddy in 90 days, which is faster than the 104-day maturing variety he planted. The small plot, Michael claims, has beaten the national average of paddy yield per square foot. If it works as intended, farmers are able to grow paddy alongside mushrooms and harvest fish as they harvest the rice.
“It sounds utopic,” Michael says. “But we’ve done it. We just need to scale it. We’ve done the calculation, and I see that it works. We can change the face of paddy farming in Malaysia.”
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