Jenny wears our Taiyo dress by The Wylde.
Food & Garden
A Sustainable Life With Jenny Ong: Slow Living & Starting a Homestead
We chat to the lovely ‘slow life lover’ and ‘earth activist’, Jenny Ong all about her daily sustainable rituals. Jenny shares with us what inspired her to create her own homestead where she grows an array of produce in harmony with the land, and her top tips for anyone who wants to start.
“Sustainability means trying to live life in harmony with nature or at the very least, trying to be more mindful of the earth’s resources.”
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
I go out to our backyard to greet the chickens and feed them. They are usually already up right at the crack of dawn so I try to make sure they’re attended to before anything else, as they can get pretty fussy about breakfast! Then after that, I check on my raised beds to inspect plants and gaze at possible new leafs, blossoms, etc. It’s so soothing and I feel that it sets the tone for my day – I never really got that saying, until I found the right morning activity for me.
What are you having for breakfast?
I generally have either a bowl of cereal and fruit with some pea or oat milk, or if I have more time to prepare, some easy scrambled eggs (from our very local girls!) on toast with homemade marmalade, or veggie omelette made with whatever produce I can get from our garden (usually spinach, spring onion, cherry tomatoes, and shiitake mushroom [if we’re growing them in the fall/winter]).
What’s your daily beauty routine?
I don’t do much in the mornings, unless I feel like my skin is in dire need of moisturizing or a gentle cleanse. Generally I just splash a bit of warm water and then pat dry with a towel. In the evenings, I usually double cleanse with an oil-based cleanser, followed by a light gel or foaming cleanser; next comes the serum, eye cream, and moisturizer. I’ll apply oil on top of it all on days I feel it’s unbearably dry, but I won’t apply it every night.
I try to apply certain products sparingly or every other day at most (oils, acids and retinol, etc.) because I feel they’re more effective when I space them out or apply them when needed. There is always a nagging concern I have in the back of my head that I’m drying my skin out too much with certain retinols, or clogging my skin with too much oil application, something of that sort.
How would you describe your day to day style?
My day-to-day style is probably best classified as “easy”. I almost always go for something that feels comfortable and loose, first and foremost. I try to “balance” the more relaxed look with a detailed scarf, an injection of color through an accessory, or a statement hat.
“I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to pay more attention to ideas and media created by women and underrepresented ethnicities.”
How do you inform yourself throughout the day? What are you listening to, watching, reading?
For immediate news, I’m an avid Twitter user and New York Times reader. For all other times, I generally curate a list of books, documentaries and movies I want to go through for the year – I made a conscious decision a couple years ago to pay more attention to ideas and media created by women and underrepresented ethnicities. There are a lot of overlooked nuances that you learn of when reading work by these groups, and I think in a time where so much tension exists in a forcibly black-and-white arena, it’s important to do the work to understand these nuances, in order to piece differences together and ultimately find solutions that work.
I’m currently reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Lee Kimmerer (a little over halfway through at the moment, and it is just brilliant). I really loved “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde, a book that I had finished in January. She is so powerfully raw and evocative with her sentiments and stances – at the same time, it’s rather jarring to see that we are still facing so many issues that she had outlined in her essays from the 70s-80s.
I will be starting “The Biggest Little Farm” and “Gather” soon – these two focus on regenerative farming and indigenous practices, and I’m glad there has been increased interest in these things, as both conventional farming practices and food waste are major contributors to climate change.
Podcasts I’m currently listening to are “Pod Save America”, “The Daily”, “Vox Conversations”, “Freakonomics Radio”, and “SuperSoul Conversations”. I tune in from time to time and wish I were a better audio listener, but I generally prefer to read articles, I’ve found!
Do you have any personal life hacks for getting through the day in the most sustainable way possible?
Oh this is hard. I feel like there is always so much to do that it’s nearly impossible to really have a “hack” for a day. But I try to remind myself of certain questions and set schedules on my “sustainability calendar” ahead of time in order to envision what I need to do, so that I don’t end up feeling too overwhelmed. The question I like to keep in mind is, “How can I do this with less?” or “What is the natural alternative to this?”
On my calendar, I will dedicate different days to doing chores like “Turn the compost bins” and “Dump all compost”, or “Clear out chicken coop”, or “Clear out rain barrels” (before a forecast of rainy weather).
“My number one advice for anyone looking to start their own homestead is to just start it, little by little, no matter how much space you have.”
How did you get into gardening? And what is your number one advice for anyone looking to start their own homestead?
I had dreamt about starting a garden, I think back in 2018, when I was living in my apartment – I was crazy obsessed with plants (I’d collected about 200 plants, half of them very small orchids) since 2015 and I think it was just a natural progression to go from houseplants to gardening and growing food.
I’ve always been a lover of local produce and cooking, and I’d also started composting at home that year and the desire to use that compost in my own yard to promote a more cyclical process had grown a lot, especially as I had yearned to do something outside of the blogging bubble that I felt I was in. Whenever a question popped up in my head, like “How tall do tomatoes get?” or “What is fertilizer?” I’d write notes on my phone, and collect images of other people’s gardens in my ‘farm’ inspiration folder.
My number one advice for anyone looking to start their own homestead is to just start it, little by little, no matter how much space you have. I really regret not trying harder with the balcony we had at the apartment. We’d attempted a tomato and a handful of herbs but knowing what I know now, we could have definitely grown at least ten more types of produce in that small space. There is always a lot to do with homesteading and the best way to get into it (without feeling overwhelmed) is to just get comfortable with taking that first step.
How do you wind down at the end of the day?
Some days I put on a soothing jazz track, make myself a negroni, and start knitting to really wind down at the end of the day. Knitting, quilting, and crocheting were all things I’d also dreamt about as a kid but never really dove into until recently. I bought my first pair of needles and skeins of yarn early last year and told myself that the pandemic is telling me to start on my dream hobbies now. So I did, and I realized that knitting is the most effectively therapeutic activity I have tried so far (right after gardening).
What does dinner time look like for you?
Dinner is sort of a toss up for me, to be honest. I think my typical dinner evenings are equally divided between a fully home-cooked meal, semi-prepared meals, and take-out (my fiancee and I previously did not eat out as much, but we are trying to support local mom-and-pops due to the pandemic). To make dinner preparations for the week more efficient and less cumbersome, I try to cook two big dishes once a week, so that we can feast on leftovers for at least two more nights (or sometimes lunch if it’s really good!). Other nights, for semi-prepared dinners, we like to just throw some hot chilli condiments on sauteed or steamed vegetables or seafood and have that with a starchy base like rice or pasta.
“I think my drive to live as sustainably as possible is rooted in my love for diversity, and the joy I feel when I see people thrive in unfettered lives.”
What’s your night-time beauty ritual?
If you were to ask me this question two years ago, I would have listed my arduous, ten-step (or sometimes more) routine. I’ve since replaced that with a much simpler ritual, one that consists of keeping a habit journal (tracking my water intake and meditation), and simplifying my skincare routine greatly. I try to carve out time to wind down to mentally prepare myself to sleep (it’s rather hard for me to fall asleep, and I’ve come to realize that the best thing you can do for ‘beauty’ is to get a good night’s rest).
During that wind down time, I meditate by knitting a little bit. With skincare, every night I will double cleanse my face (an oil cleanser and either a gel or exfoliating cleanser). Then I will apply a serum and give myself a quick facial massage using two fingers (in “pinch” formation) and lightly applying pressure to the edges of my face, temples, and cheekbones. It calms me quite a bit and is a great way to promote blood circulation in the face. After a quick 2-3 minutes of that, I will apply eye cream and moisturizer, and that’s it.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability means…trying to live life in harmony with nature, or at the very least, trying to be more mindful of the earth’s resources. It’s the constant evaluation of one’s sense of duty towards the wellbeing of all others in return for taking from the earth.
What drives you to live a sustainable life?
For me personally, I think my drive to live as sustainably as possible is rooted in my love for diversity, and the joy I feel when I see people thrive in unfettered lives. Diverse, thriving communities, a diverse ecosystem filled with animals, insects and organisms in soil, none of these can flourish without keeping sustainability in mind.
I’ve realized I am also the type of person who loves feeling self sufficient – the idea of cyclical reciprocity is a process that I very much geek out on, and that is essentially what sustainable living is. Especially put against the backdrop of such a fast-paced, modern society, to lead a slower, more sustainable life feels a bit like creative rebellion. (Of course, needless to say, there are a lot of privileges attached to being able to live or even think in this way– that is definitely a conversation that must accompany any topic of sustainability.)
Finally, what are three changes you would like to take from this time to move forward with in a more sustainable way?
I had implemented a lot of lifestyle changes before the pandemic hit, so I’m not totally sure on this one. I did realize that while quarantining and having to really SIT with my stuff at home I’ve never been more convinced that I am happiest when tending to soil, that I don’t need many variations of the same shirt or sweater to feel comfortable with my style. I’ve realized that to have a sustainable lifestyle and style, I must weave the two and base my style off of what I can do for the earth, not what the earth can do for me.
Words and imagery from @jennyong