Welcome back! Currently I am puzzled by the aspect of Indonesian food, and their relationship with everything “goreng” or “fried”. Sometimes walking down the street passing all the food vendors can feel a bit like going to a state fair. But instead of fried oreoes and snickers, it’s fried chicken, noodles, tofu, and more! Yes, just about everything here can and is fried, as YouTube personality Sasha Stevenson makes clear in her funny video. But that doesn’t mean that vegetables aren’t available and abundant. They’re just generally cut up for stir fry rather than in salads. Fried foods are high in calories, something not always abundant in a developing world. But as Indonesia climbs the rungs of development, more people are becoming aware of the impact of the foods they eat. In fact, obesity is just beginning to trickle into this nation. There is a growing community that is trying to change this habit og goreng consumption. In November we went to visit a hydroponic garden based in Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya.
The owner of Kebunsayur Surabaya Venta Augustri and his wife pictured on the right let us ask questions, and shared a lot with us about his operations in the city. It felt like talking to a friend, especially after Rio mentioned he had built and maintained his own hydroponic garden in his bedroom window. His focus is on providing healthy organic produce for city dwellers, and has seen a lot of success in convincing young adults and house wives to shift towards organic produce. The biggest clients however are upscale hotels in the area.
Along with the farm, Venta also operates a “Green Market” once a month, where his produce makes it out to a walk able market. His produce isn’t the only thing for sale though. Since the farm has grown, Venta has started making business connections to other farmers outside the city importing goods like strawberries. The farm’s buyers have also turned producers, producing organic and healthy food staples. Items like vegetable ice cream and gluten-free cassava noodles. If the product gets enough traction, it’s even featured for sale on site at the hydroponic garden. I can’t say either of us were tempted to try the ice cream however. Perhaps another time.
The hydroponic garden doesn’t solve just the problem of good fresh produce, it also solves the rainy season dilemma. Often during the rainy season (Nov-March) farmers have to use excessive levels of pesticides to beat the bugs or even shut down operations altogether. Meanwhile, the hydro farm can produce the same amount of green goodness year round. But that doesn’t mean the farm doesn’t have its own problems. Venta admits his hardest struggle is keeping bugs off his goods. A greenhouse closure would raise operating costs, so as an alternative the staff uses grated ginger mixed with water to spray down the produce and keep it bug free.
The garden grows a variety of lettuce, kale, cherry tomatoes (which we bought, and were some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten), beans, herbs, and more. Our favorite find was basil, the key ingredient to fresh pesto- something my husband and I had considered saying goodbye to when we left the USA. For my own hopes in this place, I’d like to see produce featured more in Indonesian cuisine. Indonesia has a particularly long and arduous history with food security, and was at one point the world’s largest importer of rice. Interested in a deep dive overview of “Food Security” in Indonesia? Learn more.