Joey Kee CPA is the driving force behind turning an overgrown space into a community-owned edible garden.
By Katie Langmore
When Joey Kee CPA heard a podcast in 2015 about an edible community garden in his suburb of Kuala Lumpur, he didn’t realise the impact the moment would have on his life.
“I just thought I’d check it out as it was the first time I’d heard of such a place in TTDI [Taman Tun Dr Ismail], despite having lived in the suburb for more than 20 years,” recalls Kee.
The garden Kee visited was overgrown with weeds. It was clear it wasn’t being well maintained and he discovered that most of the members had moved on to other projects.
In late 2015, Kee quit his job as a financial analyst at Johnson Controls Malaysia – “I think this is what my generation calls a ‘quarter-life crisis’,” he laughs – opening up time to focus on his new interest.
He organised a gotong-royong – a group of volunteers – to clean up the garden. “It was a bit of a struggle as there were only four of us and we didn’t have any gardening and farming knowledge or experience,” says Kee.
“I love seeing photos of the garden taken at various times, from a place filled with weeds, to a vacant plot, then a garden with raised beds and now one with a barn, rainwater harvesting and soon solar panels. It shows how far we’ve come.”
“We decided to head back home and obtain some skills through volunteering at other farms, reading online articles, watching YouTube videos related to gardening, and adopting our own plants at home.”
By early 2017, he was putting much of his energy and time into the garden.
“As a bigger collective with more consistent participants, we managed to clear it up and plant fruit trees and vegetables,” says Kee. He also established a committee of 10, and stepped in as treasurer.
Helpfully, the collective was supported by the local authority council’s (DBKL) Agenda 21 department, “which aims to reduce carbon emissions, create sustainable development within the local communities and utilise unused vacant lands”, outlines Kee.
In addition to his work as treasurer, Kee manages the garden’s Facebook page and Facebook group, and acts as liaison between the committee and external stakeholders, preparing presentation slides, proposals and reports.
Over the last year or so, the group has secured two grants totalling RM30,000 and signed a memorandum of understanding with DBKL, which gives it formal authority to operate the garden, and supports fundraising.
Most importantly, members get their hands dirty.
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“We have to do most things manually – watering, tilling new beds, weeding, composting, grass cutting and harvesting – and we sell the produce during our weekend market at the garden.”
It’s a lot of work with no pay, so Kee has recently taken on a part-time job as a consultant for a data centre company. He’s also learning how to trade from home to supplement his income.
For now, he’ll do whatever it takes to fund the time he gives to the garden, educating on sustainability, fostering closer ties among the local community, and supporting the garden’s growth and prosperity.
“I love seeing photos of the garden taken at various times, from a place filled with weeds, to a vacant plot, then a garden with raised beds and now one with a barn, rainwater harvesting and soon solar panels,” he says proudly. “It shows how far we’ve come.”
TTDI edible garden
The community owned project is supported by residents in TTDI and neighbouring areas. The garden operates on an “adoption of a plot” basis, with each plot planted in and watered by the person who adopted it.
Taking accounting skills and putting them to volunteer use