Kebun Kita(r): Penang’s 1st Self-Sustaining Community Urban Farm Opens at Penang Digital Library

Kebun Kita(r), Penang’s first self- sustaining community urban farm launched by the Penang State Government in partnership with Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) and Think City, opened its doors to the public on Monday September 14th. 

A 2,000-square foot farm built on land donated by the Penang State Government, Kebun Kita(r) is located within the grounds of the Penang Digital Library and will produce enough food to feed up to 400 households in the city. 

Featuring state-of-the-art smart technologies, the farm operates on a unique circular and fully self-sustaining model. Its vertical hydroponic and automated irrigation systems were custom-designed for the project by UPSI, which also incorporates solar panels for energy generation, rainwater harvesting for irrigation and a comprehensive zero-waste management system.

The name itself is a combination of the Bahasa Melayu words ‘kebun’ meaning ‘farm’, with a tongue-in-cheek twist on the words ‘kita’ and ‘kitar’, meaning ‘ours’ and ‘recycle’, respectively, to reflect the closed-loop, zero-waste nature of the farm. 

The farm will channel 60% of its harvested produce to underprivileged communities in Penang while the remainder will be sold to the public to cover the operational costs of the farm. A practical step, it’s also a further nod to the self-sustaining nature of the project and, if successful, provides a model for its effective expansion to further locations in the future. 

As Hamdan Abdul Majeed, Managing Director of Think City, noted at the launch: “We live in uncertain times and witnessed the effects of disruption most acutely with the Covid-19 pandemic. We may yet encounter challenges such as interruptions to supply chains, loss of employment, and movement restrictions. A sustainable urban farming movement can enable communities to grow food independently, and potentially provide opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and social cohesion,” 

As well providing an additional layer of food security to urban dwellers, projects like Kebun Kita(r) play a crucial social role as well. Industrial farming techniques have left us isolated and remote from the processes that bring food to our supermarkets, which are often transported by land, sea and air across thousands of kilometres. The trend for farm-to-table dining and specialist grocery stores that list the provenance and history of their food has been growing in recent years, but its scope has mostly been limited to a wealthy few. 

Initiatives like Kebun Kita(r) create touchpoints that make food creation more accessible. The public can see how their produce is grown and harvested, while at the distribution end, Think City’s K2K digital platform will facilitate the seamless distribution of the produce to B40 communities.

Added Hamdan Abdul Majeed: “The farm is a positive extension of Think City’s ‘Kita to Kita’ (K2K) programme utilising a digital platform to capture, analyse data and develop interventions that can improve the quality of life and wellbeing of the B40 communities. In this case, K2K will be used to register, track and distribute produce to B40 households. As a tried and tested pilot project, there are also opportunities to replicate the Kebun Kita(r) model in other locations in Penang, or other cities nationwide,” he added. 

Officiating at the launch of Kebun Kita(r), YAB Tuan Chow Kon Yeow, Chief Minister of Penang was bullish about the prospect of expanding the project, commenting that he would like to see 100 similar farms in the state by 2023: “The farm will act as a prototype to draw up state-level policy around converting or repurposing underutilised, vacant or state and local council-owned spaces into food fields to feed the rakyat with safe and nutritious food. Organic food will no longer be a luxury but can be enjoyed by all.”

The Citymaker will be following the progress of Kebun Kita(r) via The Citymaker and Reflexive City podcasts.