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The Easy Sell of Organics - Jakarta Globe
Last modified: 2010-11-16 02:35:59

Emilia Nursanti Wibisono, or Santi, is one of the more well-known proponents of the organic food movement here in Jakarta. Her introduction to organic food came in 2001, when her son, Kay, a toddler at the time, was diagnosed as a special-needs child.

Following doctors' advice, Santi fed him organic products, which she purchased from Swiss-born pastor Agatho Elsener, who lived in Tebet, South Jakarta, where Santi's family also lived.

Kay's special needs turned the entire family to organic food as well. As Santi became a regular at Elsener's shop, she also spread the word about the benefits of organic food among other parents with special-needs children.

"Organic shops in Jakarta were scarce back in 2001 because organic food was still uncommon," Santi said, adding that most parents she knew who got into organic food were those she met at the doctor's.

Today, she helps run a food business called Organik Klub that is changing the way Jakartans eat and how they look at their personal health.

According to the Web site organicguide.com, English botanist Sir Albert Howard in 1940 was among the first in the world to suggest that the use of chemicals in growing plants had caused soils to become unhealthy.

While Howard did not use the term "organic," he advised farmers to start using natural farming techniques by substituting artificial fertilizers with mixed vegetable and animal waste.

In Indonesia, Elsener is regarded as the founding father of organic farming. In the early 1980s, he began teaching farmers in Cisarua, West Java, to plant without using any chemicals.

He then sold the crops in Jakarta from his home and also at a number of supermarkets.

The movement has slowly but surely caught on. Data from the Indonesian Organic Alliance (AOI) shows a steady increase in land used for organic farming in the country, from 41.4 hectares in 2007 to 230.1 hectares in 2009.

Kay is now 11 years old and Santi said the benefits of the move to organic food were visible. "Kay has shown great progress because he now eats everything ever since we started feeding him organic food. He used to be a picky eater. What is more important, his body is so much less contaminated [with chemicals]," she said.

"When I was pregnant with my second child, I felt a lot healthier compared to during my first pregnancy," she added.

Since switching to organic food, she and her family have difficulty consuming non-organic products. They even bring their own vegetables when they eat out at their favorite Chinese restaurant in Kota, West Jakarta.

"The people at the restaurant let me bring our own vegetables and they prepare our meals based on what they have on the menu. They charge us the same so it's not a problem," Santi said. "People may think we are weird for doing these kinds of things, but we just don't care as long as it makes us healthy."

Santi's deeper involvement with the organic food movement in Jakarta happened as a matter of necessity.

A few years after she became a regular at Elsener's shop, the pastor, by this time an Indonesian citizen, sold his house in Tebet and used the money to expand the farm in Cisarua.

Santi said that while the new owner of the house continued to sell organic food, it wasn't the same.

"Very often us regular customers had to wait until she [the new owner] got up. It was so much easier before with pastor," she said.
Santi, along with a few other regular customers, decided to take over the distribution to make purchasing easier.

"Most of us bought the shop's products because we had family members with special needs or who suffered from cancer and needed non-chemical diets," she said. "We needed organic food on a daily basis."

The group chose Santi to be the new point person for the organic products from the Cisarua farm. She initially borrowed space at her father's photo studio in Tebet before moving operations to her own home in 2003.

At the time, the products were only available to Elsener's former regular customers. In 2007, Santi officially registered the shop under the name Organik Klub, opening it to the public.

In addition to the fruits and vegetables, she also added a variety of other organic items, such as soybean sauce, rice and crackers.

Jakarta's organic food enthusiasts were soon drawn to Organik Klub, which receives deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm in Cisarua four times a week. Every Tuesday and Friday, Organik Klub employees also deliver orders.

Santi said that in an average week she catered to about 50 customers.

Mariana "Anne" Suhardjo, an Organik Klub regular, said she turned to organic food in 2002. "It's very simple. We just wanted to live a healthier life," she said. "Jakarta is already highly polluted and I thought that there has got to be a way to live a healthy life."

Although Anne's family is not as strict as Santi's, she said that she makes an effort to prepare meals using organic ingredients at home and only eats out occasionally. "Over time, I can say that my two kids rarely get sick, unlike most children who easily catch a cold or common flu symptoms," she said. "As for me, I feel so much healthier. I have also started to cut down on eating red meat."

Moses, another customer, has been buying organic food products from Santi's shop for almost three months. Together with his wife, he switched to organic products a year ago. Like Anne, Moses said they wanted a healthier lifestyle. "Our immune systems improved. We don't get sick so easily anymore," he said.

Anne and Moses both acknowledge that their organic diet is more expensive compared to non-organic food. "But I'd rather spend more money for healthy food than for seeing a doctor," Anne said.

Moses pointed out that the price for organic spinach was Rp 4,500 (50 cents) compared to Rp 1,000 for the non-organic variety. "But [the benefit] our body gets is worth all the extra money spent."

One Girl's Organic Education

On a Tuesday morning, baskets of fresh vegetables filled almost every available space of the Organik Klub shop in Tebet, South Jakarta. There were a few men and a woman standing by, patiently waiting to pick up their orders.

A little girl named Verena, still dressed in her pajamas, was excitedly greeting customers. "Hello, can I get you something?" she said. "If not, I'll go inside to drink."

Verena is the daughter of Emilia Nursanti Wibisono, also known as Santi, who runs Organik Klub. She is used to helping her mother around the shop, and Santi said that it had proven to be an invaluable education for her daughter.

"It was not easy to teach her how to write because she hated it. But now she always asks me to let her prepare the shopping bills for the customers. And that's how she leaned to write, by doing that," Santi said.

She said that Verena, who is almost 7 years old, grew up eating organic food and has fully embraced the lifestyle. She has even been given the nickname "environment-friendly kid" at school, Santi said of her daughter.

Santi added that this had led to some funny situations, with Verena sometimes using environmental issues to try and put off having to do something.

"When I tell her to take a shower, she will say, ‘Mommy, we have to save water,' " Santi said.

Verena is doing well in school and says that she wants to become a doctor when she grows up.

"I want to help children like my brother," she said, referring to her brother, Kay, who has special needs.

Jakarta Globe July 07, 2010

Keywords: The Easy Sell of Organics, Jakarta Globe, Indonesia, organik, Jakarta, Emilia Nursanti Wibisono, healthy, children
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