Jay Desan – Co-founder BoomGrow Malaysia
In this interview, Jay Desan (centre photo) co-founder of BoomGrow Malaysia, shares a new way of farming that is better both for the environment and our health.
What do you do?
We harness analytics and IoT to grow clean greens in tech-enabled, indoor precision farms. These greens are then delivered directly to the doors of our customers within hours of harvest. BoomGrow’s promise is zero pesticides, no harmful chemicals, and no nasties, ever.
How did you get into the industry?
I completed a PhD in standards of sustainability and have been advising FTSE-listed companies on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies for over 15 years. Over the course of my career, I have had first-hand experience consulting for various agriculture and F&B manufacturing companies. This allowed me to assess the data around some of the practices, as well as the disconnect people in these organisations had about sustainability. I knew right from the start that the food chain is ripe for disruption and that the confluence of technology and hardware would enable better methods of food production. This is what inspired me to start BoomGrow with my co-founders.
What is your mission?
Our mission is make good produce accessible to all. We do this through best-in-class farming practices that address the environmental and health implications caused by existing food production methods.
Commercial food production has a direct impact on our socio-economic fabric, the health of the people, as well as the sustainability of our planet. Over-farming strips the soil of essential nutrients, and the carbon cost of importing vegetables is a key contributor to climate change.
BoomGrow’s precision farming technology allows us to grow good produce that have no nasties, packed with nutrition and wellness. We do so in hyperlocal Machine Farms, allowing us to bring our customers a true farm-to-table experience. In doing so, we are introducing trust and traceability back into a broken food system.
What’s a food memory from your childhood or travels that stands out?
Growing up in Malaysia, I loved going to open houses in the neighbourhood where the tables always groaned with food galore. Whatever the celebration, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali or Christmas, the kids had the best time and were always given more food to tapao as well as ang pows. In a way, this has given me a deep-seated understanding how food builds community and identity.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is that I get to work with some of the finest chefs, food experts and nutritionists in the world. I am constantly amazed by the creativity and passion of the people in the food industry. I am also blown away by the talent of the many home cooks who support us with recipes galore – it’s really heart-warming to see our BoomGrow tribe grow.
The worst part: All the calories consumed in the course of work-related research adds up over time!
Jay Desan’s favourite food and beverage pairing?
Soft boiled eggs in soya sauce and kopi kampung.
What do you do for fun?
I spend an inordinate amount of time at badminton courts. Both my children play competitively and they beat me 21-0 all the time, but I still try!
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective or the way you operate professionally?
The global food system is at an inflection point as the pandemic revealed the cracks in relying on a global supply chain. This has truly put a spotlight on the urgent agricultural and ecological challenges of our time. The confluence of technological advancements and consumer preferences has given us the opportunity to reimagine the food industry and its impact on the economy, planet, and our health. Consumers will vote with their wallets for providers who can provide them with better produce and solutions.
Our farm’s resilience and ability to supply produce reliably over the course of the pandemic reinforced the fact that our mission remains more relevant than ever. Professionally, it was also a unifying experience. Navigating the challenges of the pandemic required us to stand together -both internally as a team, as well as with our F&B partners.
What’s your view on the food/drink scene in KL?
It is truly an interesting time to be working in agriculture and food today in KL. We are on the cusp of a transformation of the entire value chain. Online buying platforms are giving rise to artisanal produce and access to new produce and experiences. An explosion of cafes and restaurants are rethinking food and providing better farm-to-table dining experiences. Our foodies are concerned with health, sustainability, environmental integrity and social justice. Start-ups and innovators are working together to disrupt how food is produced, distributed and consumed. Super looking forward to the next frontier in KL!
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
We are on expansion mode with a large in-premises farm that is being built as we speak. We are also building more Machine Farms and creating more jobs in the process. Lots of long hours and lots of fun. As a tech farming company, we are always looking to enhance systems integrators to make technology work better for us, which will in turn provide us with data, data and more data.
Our produce range is growing and check out our website as we will announce new greens and mixes soon!