In a world that is quickly becoming fast and furious, we all need to take a minute to slow down and smell the roses. Jocean Bowler and his wife Ayu are helping us Jakartans do just that, whilst showing us that living ecologically can be delicious, easy, and fun. After a relaxing weekend with the wonderful couple and their family, we got the scoop from Jocean about Lodges Ekologika and Portibi Farms, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Big Durian.
What is the inspiration behind Lodges Ekologika and Portibi Farms?
It’s just trying to make one place in the world better; to find useful, fairly profitable things to do while we grow the forest back; things that can be done in one lifespan; to show others that dreams can become real; and for future generations, so that there still will be jungle around for our kids to play in.
I came here as an 18-year-old exchange student and was very lucky to live with a great family who taught me much about this part of the world, and who contributed most of the land we farm. I kept coming back, learning more, and becoming more happily confused by the chaos and opportunity that is Indonesia at this moment.
Other things that inspire: the level of craftsmanship that remains in the village; the cultures that remain alive in the face of an ever-strengthening magnet of modernity; the fantastic beauty and strength of the living forest – all these are still here, but endangered, so we’re doing our best to save a bit and put them in peoples’ minds before they’re washed away.
Throughout the process I continue to run into more folks who complement, inspire, and could collaborate in the future, so they’re a part of it, too.
What are your main goals with Lodges Ekologika and Portibi Farms?
Practically, first, we became a working organic farm. Now, we have built the lodges, a place that people from Jakarta can visit and to learn about nature by being in it. Together with our guests, we shall start moving onto stage three, which is making some processed goods from our farm produce, things that last a bit longer than rocket salad in your fridge so our flavours may carry a bit farther and more value added can come back to the village.
Philosophically, to build a place that supports growth based on traditional knowledge that can be found in our village, so that talented/skilled/motivated people from here do not have to get sucked into the city as they are trying to get ahead.
To grow the forest back, and to show others it can be done.
To continue growing and assembling the best salads in Indonesia, and to maintain this standard as we venture into other culinary arts and crafts. Salad dressings, sambal, jackfruit wine or goat cheese, jazz and gamelan, some or all of these will happen, just depends on the next chain of bite-sized steps.
You and Ayu are amazing cooks and most of the food you serve is from Portibi Farms. How do you craft the meals and the recipes?
We don’t really use recipes. Rule No. 1 on the farm is to use that which is already available around you, so our menus are constantly changing due to seasonal availability, as well as our love of experimenting. We don’t chop things much, preferring instead to cook whole, hot and fast, keeping the integrity of the ingredients intact on the plate.
So we deal with what we have, we work to grow more good stuff, and find more good things available in the neighbourhood/local markets to work with. We seek to minimize waste (Rule No. 2 – but most important – is: no waste on the farm), in the menu planning and methods, and by having a growing herd of chickens and catfish to take care of our minimized trimmings.
For someone coming to Portibi, what advise would you give them to get the best out of their experience?
Prepare to be relaxed, eat well, and think and talk about what is really important, and what we can do here and now, to improve the world around us. Let us know in advance you’re coming though, because as you can probably see from above, we’re not a walk-in type place with a bunch of frozen food to defrost and serve you.
You have a WWOOF program. What are you looking for in volunteers? What would a volunteer be responsible for while they are staying with you and how long do you require volunteers to stay?
We like smart folks who understand that everyone must be useful on the farm and have some real skills or talents to contribute. We’re thinking of getting our visiting artist program up and running after many delays, and some of our neighbors may be starting a music studio. Nice folks, nature lovers who work hard, aren’t afraid of mud, and are ready to join in the magic. Accountants, administrators and computer programmers juga boleh, you just need to be ready to get involved. Send us an e-mail and we shall see what we can do together.
You are still in your “soft opening” phase, what’s next for Portibi Farms?
Continued experimentations and working towards perfection. I want to go back to building. Good food as a focus of my efforts has been successful in making me fat, so this year we plan to build a smoker/BBQ/outdoor bar, as well as to learn and make a naturally filtered swimming pool. We have some leftover black pipes from our irrigation installation, so I’m thinking of experimenting with a solar hot water setup for the campground. We have also have a bunch of clove, avocado and coffee trees to plant during this rainy season.
Lastly, would you mind sharing a recipe with us?
Portibi Non-Potato Mash
Lokal carbohydrate base for 12 hungry souls
1 kg sweet yam (ubi jalar) skin on but pick out the black bits (if you have the lovely purple ones, boil separately, and mash in roughly at the end)
2/3 kg freshly picked and peeled cassava (singkong)
1/3 kg skinned taro root (talas dinosaurus)
A handful of shallots, smashed enthusiastically, no need to chop
A handful of herbs, whatever is in abundance (basil, dill, parsley, or coriander are our favourites)
200 g coconut milk and/or butter
2 tbsp salt
Chop the yams into large (3-4 cm) equal chunks. Fill a large pot two-thirds full with water and salt. Add the cassava first. After five minutes of boiling, add taro chunks. After five more min, add shallots, sweet yams, and some of the herbs. Boil till all are tender and mashable. Drain the water, add coconut milk or butter, and the remainder of herbs. Smash vigorously. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover, and serve immediately.