The trend to return to organic farming has made its way to Asia and the Learning Farm in Indonesia has turned the trend into an enterprise with deep social impact—training street kids to find more peaceful, self-reliant lives. Executive Director Johan Purnama tells Fast Company that organic has now become a "lifestyle" for some in Jakarta and his goal is to scale up organic produce production to supply major hotels and restaurants in the country.
Founded by World Education in 2005, the Learning Farm is now in the hands of Purnama, where he takes in about 50 street kids at a time to help them abandon their violent, difficult pasts and engage in a form of work and service he hopes will lead to future jobs.
"Organic farming is just the learning medium, so everyone can follow the model," says Purnama, by phone from Jakarta. "It can be masonry or other trades. For us farming is about showing respect for other creatures, like worms."
The estimated number of street children in Jakarta is over 10,000, and that number is increasing.
The endeavor has many challenges, Purnama admits. "Working with vulnerable youth is not easy, not like working with villagers," he says. "You're dealing with medical and violent backgrounds. We approach them like their parents. In the morning they should clean the house and things like that. They're like a task force."
His "task force" approach is paying off in terms of outcomes—an overwhelming majority of his students have jobs in and outside of agriculture.
And although the organization is relatively young, Purnama has his eye on what the Learning Farm can become in Indonesia and has already begun discussions with the Four Seasons Hotel and major supermarkets. Purnama wants to be the major organic supplier for such clients in order to spread awareness and interest in organic farming and sustain the farm's activities. If he can secure large commercial clients, then he can help secure the future of the youths he so desperately wants to help.
"Feeding 50 boys with 6,000 square meters of farm is tough," he says, but if he can can make use of that much space and transform the fates of the less fortunate one person at a time in just a matter of months, his goal of bringing an organic "lifestyle" to the mainstream public may soon be within reach.
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