Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tomatoes from Cameron Highlands

It was the Perak Sultan's birthday weekend and my family planned a trip to the nearby Cameron Highlands for a weekend escapade. With the new road from Simpang Pulai ready, the journey from our hometown to Cameron only took about 1.5 hours, compared to 2.5 hours using the Tapah road.

By the time we reached Cameron, it was around 10.30am and our first agenda was to visit one of our relatives in Tringkap. His wife and him are tomato farmers, owning a large tomato plantation nearby. We were lucky to catch them when they were both free, and they gladly gave us a tour to their orchard. :) The road to the orchard was really bumpy, steep and dirty, so much so that a normal sedan is not advised to drive in there. Of course, we had the privilege of riding in what the farmers rode - a pick-up truck!

This was the truck that all TEN of us rode in! All of us sat at the back and bumped our way through. *LOL* The smart me brought a cap so that I wouldn't get sunburnt. Even though the highlands are supposed to have cooler weather, in the afternoon, it was just hot! Thankfully the journey took a mere 15 minutes.

resize
Ready to rough it out

We were even greeted with nice scenery along the way. Just like this flower plantation on our way in. So many colours and all blooming nicely!

resize3
Blooming flowers

This was the type of road that the truck went through. It was so narrow that when there was an oncoming car, we had to really squeeze to the side of the road! Very dangerous. Not to mention bumpy too. I found a trick such that when the roads are bumpy, it is wiser to stand up or lift your butt from the seat to avoid merciless punches to your buttocks!

P1000901
Dirt road

Finally, we reached the tomato orchard. It was so huge and green!

P1000904
Tomato plants

Can you see the transparent tubes hanging from the top to the plants? They are used for watering the tomatoes automatically. The art of planting tomatoes is not to be belittled. Everything here (except for harvesting) is automated. In fact, the watering is also customized according to the weather. When it is hot, the duration and interval would be different compared to when it is rainy season. Very hi-tech huh?

P1000916
More tomato plants

Besides, the cost of planting tomatoes is not cheap at all. Talking to our relatives revealed that the monthly cost for planting tomatoes is up to RM50k! They have about 15 workers, with wages of roughly RM800/month. This will translate to approximately RM12k. Apart from that, the water to the tomatoes is actually infused with fertilizer. To water and fertilize the whole orchard requires a cost of RM1k a DAY! Can you imagine? That's a freaking RM30k/month just for fertilizer! Add everything up with other miscellaneous charges and fees, the monthly cost could easily run into RM50k. Definitely not a cheap business.

P1000906
Raw tomatoes

Look at these freshly picked tomatoes! Very big and juicy, but a little dirty. :)

P1000905
Freshly picked tomatoes

We found baskets and baskets of tomatoes in their makeshift factory nearby. Look at the one that I was holding in the picture? There's a weird little bump in the middle of the tomato, like it was in the middle of shitting. *LOL*

P1000912
Mutation?

Later on, I found an even weirder tomato. OMG, are you thinking what I'm thinking? :P

P1000945
Another weird tomato

I spotted this huge machine in the factory too. It looked old and dusty, and I thought it wasn't being used anymore. Can you guess what it is?

resize1
Machines

It was actually a tomato-cleaning machine! The silly me thought that it was not in use anymore, but we were feasted with a trial run. Firstly, the freshly picked tomatoes would be fed into the metal container at the starting point. When the machine is on, the rollers would carry the tomatoes up the slope.

resize2
Tomato-cleaning process

Did you notice a fan blowing down in one of the pictures? It works to blow away the dirt that is brushed off from the tomato skin. Very creative, don't you think? The tomatoes are cleaned by the rotating brushes before they are sent for 'sizing'! I personally think that the sizing part is a marvellous idea! When I first saw the holes on the machine, I was wondering what were they for? It turned out that each row of holes has different sizes. The smaller holes are for smaller tomatoes, while the larger holes are for large tomatoes. When the tomatoes can go through the holes, they are considered to be of that hole's size. These categorized tomatoes are then used to fill up carton boxes with a weighing machine below. Whenever each box reaches 10kg, it will be sealed off and sent to the dealer. Really cool.

P1000937
Awesome tomato-sizing machine

P1000941
10kg yet?

P1000942
Packing/sealing machine

P1000943
Packing and sealing boxes of tomatoes

When the tomatoes were cleaned, we went to the box of the XXL size (the largest box at the end) and found some really huge tomatoes! Just like this one that I was holding, the size of my palm. My relative saw our excitement and gave us the huge tomato to bring home. :))

P1000946
Biggest tomato

The visit to the tomato orchard was really quite an eye-opening experience. Who was to know that planting tomatoes require such high cost? I'm so going to see tomatoes from a different perspective from now on, knowing how they come about. ;)

P1000948
Witch with tomatoes

10 comments:

soo sean said...

You remind me the experience of hitchhiking in this kind of truck when we visited Cameron 10 years back! We had a big gang too, about 10 of us.

Allan said...

Weh.. how come you have time to go to Cameron but no time to register yourself as a voter? :)

peng said...

Are the tomatoes treated with any chemical (insect/pest repellent)? I heard that tomatoes skin are quite toxic?

foongpc said...

Wow! I didn't know planting the tomatoes nowadays are so high tech! I love that tomato size sorting machine! Brilliant invention!

MisSmall said...

Very informative post, darl. :)

I've only been to Cameron Highlands once but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I especially miss the steamboat with organic vegies that's pretty much served in every restaurant at night. Nothing beats a hot pot on a cold night huh? :)

iamthewitch said...

soo sean: It was fun, wasn't it? :P

Allan: Eh, how did you know that I haven't registered already? :P

peng: Nope, the tomatoes here do not use any pesticides at all, because they are to be shipped to Singapore, which has very stringent health requirements. These tomatoes are organic.

foongpc: I know! My exact sentiments. LOL

Missmall: Thanks dear! Oh I know what you mean... steamboat and cool weather with delicious healthy vege! Yum! :)

Irenelim said...

I love the huge tomatoes! Looks great... by the way, you forgot to let us know the revenue and profit they are making! LOL.

iamthewitch said...

Irenelim: Yea, the tomatoes are awesome! I wasn't told their revenue and profit though... *LOL*

Irene said...

This is cool. I managed to try some tomatoes there too, it's so sweet and nice. But those were just the small ones, not as huge as yours :)

iamthewitch said...

Irene: Really? I actually think small ones are sweeter than big ones. :)