Starting out as a little-known farm stay in Lamunin, Eco Ponies Garden has grown to become a popular spot for ecotourism and for reigniting youth interest in sustainable farming. Under the vision of its founder, Eyon Ukoi, the garden is also taking the lead in championing the indigenous cultures of the Puak Tutong, Dusun and Kedayan.
In this interview, we asked Eyon how Eco Ponies Garden managed to stand out with its farm to table dining concept.
Hi Eyon. Can you tell us more about how Eco Ponies Garden got started?
Eco Ponies Garden started in March 2015. We only had one cottage which I originally built for my mum as a spot for her to rest after gardening or farming. Back then, we had a friend from overseas who wanted to come to Lamunin during durian season. They posted a lot on their social media accounts and that’s how we first got exposure.
A few months later, a backpacking couple from Europe wanted to experience durians in Brunei and contacted Raw Food Asia. They ended up connecting us with the backpackers. They didn’t plan to stay a long time, but they ended up staying for two months and helped promote Eco Ponies further on social media.
Now we have two cottages which can accommodate around five people and give them a true ‘farm stay’ experience.
We’ve always been more focused on agriculture. When people discovered that Lamunin had good durians, they kept coming.
You practice the farm-to-table concept and have also developed a reputation for cooking authentic kampung cuisine using plants and fruits from the jungle. Tell us more about that.
The farm-to-table concept at Eco Ponies is a celebration of my late father’s passion (cooking) and my mum’s love for farming. This is the concept that we build everything on top of, whether its team building events, large group lunches or other events that get people learning about how we grow and make our food here.
And it’s more than just food. It’s about learning more about the jungle and from the locals in things like foraging, cooking and farming. Then we came up with the idea for a farmers’ market that sells produce grown in Lamunin and other parts of Tutong to supplement income for the local community.
The people in this community have expert knowledge of the jungle and are willing to share. Whenever we have an event, people from other villages really support us. And its great to have that support from them.
And was it from there that you also developed your own food brand under ‘Eko Kampung’?
We partnered with our friend Siti Kaprawi from Astera Consultant to start the Eko Kampung brand. We produce local jams and teas which we sell at farmers’ markets.
We also run the ‘Green Kitchen’ project, which is something we want to focus on this year. People think that to farm you need land. But you only really need planter boxes and other tools. We also want more young people to become involved and come up with creative ideas for urban farming.
To be progressive you must be open to new ideas, share what you have and work together. You also need to work together with other communities while staying focused and positive.