In the hills of Malebar, West Java, lie 9,000 sqm of farmland where youths from all over Indonesia tend the soil and learn skills crucial to their own development. Mainly from low income families, they tend to be dropouts, originating from conflict or disaster stricken areas. Founded in 2005 by the Boston-based nonprofit World Education, the Learning Farm (TLF) is a residential program that houses and trains up to 45 youths in organic farming and life skills.
According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate for youths aged 15 to 24 comprises 26% of Asia’s total labor force. Organizations such as TLF seek to address this epidemic, which so often leads to violence and crime. The 100 day program is run three times per year by a crew of 13 staff. Each program targets 40 basic and five advanced students so the total target beneficiaries is 135 youths a year.
The farm yields about 30 kgs/week in over 15 types of vegetables. Produce is shipped to customers in Jakarta such as Kem Chicks, high-end restaurants, international schools and individuals. Orders are taken online with a minimum purchase of Rp 500,000 per order. Average monthly sales are around Rp 8 million, which covers distribution and operational costs. Former Sotheby’s managing director Deborah Iskandar, a TLF board member, supplies TLF with support such as seeds. “I bring in basil seeds from America,” she says. “TLF students can then collaborate with chefs to supply them with quality produce.”
“With vegetables, quality is key,” says Irama Badrianti, senior advisor of the upmarket Kem Chicks Central which places three orders per week with TLF. “Their organic produce meets our customer’s high expectations while I also believe in their work.” Chef Gilles Marx also makes weekly purchases for Amuz, one of Jakarta’s high-end French restaurants. Like Irama, he choses produce from TLF because of its values. It is not just an organic farm with great produce, but also a place where young underprivileged people can learn how to live more balanced and meaningful lives,” he says.
According to Irama, there is already a market for TLF’s produce, those customers that prefer sustainable and homegrown quality vegetables over imports. However, as a nonprofit, TLF continues to focus on providing learning opportunities for the youths over anything else. “The Learning Farm will never be financially self-sustaining, we believe strongly that our focus should strictly remain on providing disadvantaged youth with an environment to learn, and not one where they have to work or contribute to in order to keep the organization alive,” says TLF director Santi Damien.
“There is a fine line between providing youngsters with new chance of life and child labor producing commercial goods. That is sadly where we disconnect with potential donors who are singing the latest tune of social entrepreneurship,” adds Christian Van Schoote, TLF chairman.