The word organic. As a label it has so much promise, but do we ever really trust it?
There’s a lot of “organic” durian in the world, and imagine my fingers cynically making air-quotes when I say that. That’s why finding a really organic durian orchard is something to be treasured.
Rob and I were thrilled to visit Freedom Eco-Farm, a durian orchard nestled up against the National Forest in the mountains above Teluk Bahang being run with an eye toward innovation, sustainability, organic principles, and a pure love for the King of Fruit. If you’re a nature lover, a hippie, a health freak or you just love eating durian in beautiful places, this is your durian dining haven.
Joseph and Beatrice Teoh knew they had found their durian paradise
they bought the 10 acre orchard set back along the National Forest,
replete with a crystal clear stream full of durian-eating fish.
The farm is a long drive up a twisting, steep cement road into the hillsides above Teluk Bahang, Penang Island.
When you get there, you’re greeted by a flock of honking “guard geese”
who notify Joseph and Beatrice of visitors, human and otherwise. That
close to the national forest, they get a lot of unwanted visitors as well, including monkeys, monitor lizards, pythons, and even mouse deers.The geese honk at all of them.
Wei-wei, a goose born with stunted wings, is particularly protective of his humans.
The Teoh’s bought the farm in 2007 after a long search for the perfect place to build their dream – a sustainable, organic fruit farm. They also run an eco-tourism service that takes people on hikes to Penang Hill through the national forest behind their house.
The orchard has around 300 durian trees ranging from newly planted to trees over sixty years old. They were originally planted by a famous herbalist in the region, who interspersed medicinal trees and shrubs between the durians. When he died, the farm was virtually abandoned.
By the time the Teoh’s arrived, the National Forest was moving in and getting comfy.
It took some hard work to reclaim the rocky hillside, but on the afternoon we visited the orchard was glowing with a well-manicured lushness.
That lushness is thanks to Joseph’s innovative fertilizers, and most importantly, his pet worms.
What Joseph is doing is technically called “vermicomposting,” which sounds far too much like “wormy-composting” to not be pronounced that way. Pretty much every time.
Joseph explained that while most durian farmers apply animal manure directly to the soil, introducing all sorts of bacteria like Ecoli, he first feeds the manure to the worms, who think that cow pie and parasites for dinner sound great!
The worms munch it up and make this stuff.
It essentially looks like good, damp dirt. And if you’re squeamish, you should probably just pretend that’s what it is. Because worm poop is the secret to the health and flavor of the durians at Freedom Eco-Farm.
Along with rice ash and some other stuff that Joseph talks about in this video about dealing with pests organically.
We couldn’t wait to taste his durian.
And Joseph couldn’t wait to see us open a durian. “American durian lovers,” he kept grinning, “I can’t believe it.”
We were visiting at the very tail end of the season, and it had already begun to rain. Joseph warned us that the quality was not up to his standard, but still when he cracked open this Ganyao we couldn’t help oohing a little. It was so plump, with a delicate network of wrinkles.
It wasn’t as sticky as others we’d had that year, but the wetter texture gave it a creaminess that was delicious.
Joseph tucked in with gusto, laughing that eating so much durian gave him a good incentive to keep active cutting back the grass.
Then Beatrice brought out their Red Prawn, which she had been waiting for. She admitted to being very particular about her durians.
After giving it a try, Beatrice shook her head. “You’ll have to visit us earlier next year. The durian will be much better.” She threw the rest of her seed to the chickens in the yard.
So we happily ate the rest.
Tour Freedom Eco-Farm With Us
You can get a virtual tour of the farm in this short video.
Visit Freedom Eco-Farm
You can visit Joseph and Beatrice by contacting them via their website: http://www.freedomgetaway.org