Growing Communities Through Growing Food

Eats, Shoots & Roots (ESR). The name speaks for itself.

This unique social enterprise is aimed at empowering urban individuals and communities with skills and tools to grow food right at their backyard.

ESR was founded in 2012 by Sabina, Shao Lyn Low and Beatrice Yong, to educate urbanites about urban planting. They began by using recyclable items such as used tyres, plastic and glass bottles to create their first edible garden.

ESR is currently in the full charge of Shao Lyn Low and Beatrice Yong. Shao Lyn has an MA in Graphic Design from the University of Creative Arts, UK and has been in the design industry for 15 years working on a range of corporate, educational and government projects.

Beatrice Yong graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Manchester, UK and a MSc. in Management from Imperial College London. She previously worked with an internationally established advertising agency as its Brand Strategic Planner.

Shao Lyn narrates the ESR story. “We wanted Malaysians to be more conscious about the food they eat and be knowledgeable about cultivation of food. I was shocked at how little I knew about where my food came from and how most of us are highly dependent on others for our basic necessities.”

With that began Shao Lyn’s interest in agriculture, specifically permaculture. Permaculture is a set of design principles that depend on the natural eco-system for sustainability as nature has a built-in mechanism to revitalise the earth as opposed to conventional agriculture using pesticides.

ESR began by organising programmes for adults and children using teachers brought in from Australia to teach the use of permaculture in an urban setting. Over time ESR also started selling garden supplies, tools, seed boxes and related merchandise. Today, they are a one-stop centre for anyone interested in starting their own edible garden.

ESR’s urban planting business has well and truly taken off with the full commitment of both partners. Shao Lyn, as the Design Director, designs seed boxes printed on recycled paper that are compostable and biodegradable. Beatrice, the Strategy Director, is in charge of planning and strategizing.

ESR has further expanded urban planting to building and designing edible gardens for corporations and even culinary schools. “We are glad to see the growing awareness among the public. It is also encouraging that developers are actually integrating urban planting into their development plan and architecture,” says Shao Lyn.

From their headquarters in Bukit Damansara ESR operates with a team of 6 – 10 staff. They also have their own edible garden producing a large variety of vegetables – not for sale despite requests – because ESR’s mission is to encourage people to cultivate a relationship with nature through food growing.

“Having an edible garden is very much like taking care of pets. It requires time and care. If you do not maintain your garden it will become wild like a forest and that’s fine too.”

Edible gardening teaches one patience and perseverance as there is a range of tasks involved from clearing weeds, planting seeds, maintaining the growth of the plants, composting, troubleshooting to pest management. These are all part of the modules taught during the courses and programmes conducted by ESR.

Children are not left out either as ESR conducts school holiday programmes for 6 – 8-year-olds. ESR has also partnered with others to set up a sister company called Rimbun Montessori which provides a nature-based education syllabus for children between the ages of 2 ½ – 6.

“It can be challenging to get people interested in gardening. Teenagers are a harder demographic group to tap into as many find it “uncool” to be outdoors potting around and there is also the perception that gardening is for retirees or older people. I feel if people have had a taste of what it’s like to grow something, it will change their perspective.”

Shao Lyn should know since she was already working in the UK as a graphic designer and could have settled into a more comfortable life. Coming from conventional backgrounds, both Shao Lyn and Beatrice faced parental objections as their families did not want them to be toiling for survival.

The families could only be placated by success and this is exactly what the ladies have done. Seeing how they have taken the business of ESR forward their families now have every reason to be proud of them.

From conducting programmes to selling merchandise and designing and building edible gardens in several external locations, ESR has now taken it up a notch. They are currently mapping projects for ThinkCity, a set of initiatives aimed at rejuvenating Kuala Lumpur city centre by turning suitable pockets around the city into edible gardens.

ThinkCity is run in collaboration with the YWCA in Jalan Hang Jebat, where ESR is in charge of the building, designing and management of a half-acre space for the YWCA’s culinary arts students. The students have been set the target to plant and harvest their own produce within one year, in tandem with their baking and culinary course.

With ESR’s admirable track record, good growth and great possibilities in urban planting it isn’t hard to see Shao Lyn and Beatrice leaving their footprints in this new-age food planting era.

To know more, please visit their website and Facebook.