In today’s ajb Friday post we introduce you to Ibu Helianti Hilman, Founder of Javara Indigenous Indonesia; one of Indonesia’s leading purveyors of artisanal food products.
Having been long standing fans of all things Javara (both for ourselves and as gifts for family & friends back home), when Ibu Helianti recently agreed to our interview, we were seriously excited!
So it is with great pleasure that we share with you Ibu Helianti’s story, along with the overwhelmingly positive story that is Javara Indigenous Indonesia.
We sincerely hope you enjoy this post.
Jo & Liz.
Ps: Make sure you read right to the end where we reveal Our Favourite Javara Products and of course, if you have a favourite Javara product of your own, please let us know in our Comments section.
*Kenalkan Ibu Helianti Hilman : Founder Javara Indigenous Indonesia
Please tell us a little about Your story – Where did you grow up and study?
My parents taught me the value of hard work from a very early age. As a 4 year old living in Ijen, East Java, I used to go coffee picking with the Luwak coffee farmers. My Mother, Ibu Soertiningsih Ramli, was from Gresik, an old port city near Surabaya. She was a District Attorney and was from a line of very strong women. My Father, Pak Hilman Najib, was from Kudus in Central Java. His family line included a large number of scholars and professors. Both my parents were very entrepreneurial and encouraged me and my two sisters to be independent and explorative.
In sixth grade, I moved from East Java to McLean, Virginia as my Father had enrolled in a Master degree in Agribusiness. Upon returning to Indonesia, I went to High School in Yogyakarta. After secondary school, I studied Law in Bandung, West Java and then moved to Jakarta where I set up an entertainment company. Interestingly, my parents didn’t like this… I don’t think they valued my decision.
This was a very busy time of my life, including a move to London to study my Masters in Intellectual Property Rights. After some time, I became involved in lots of consulting work, visiting rural areas in Indonesia. This was about 15 years ago.
Tell us about establishing the ‘grass roots’ of your Business – How did Javara Indigenous Indonesia begin?
Javara started 10 years ago, almost by accident. I met some indigenous farmers who were keeping alive their heirloom seeds. They had been marginalised from the market as their product was difficult to sell. I visited them near Yogyakarta. I embarked on a ‘roadshow’ with them whereby we ate and lived together. It gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what the farmers were doing.
During this trip, I learnt much more than the process of farming. I learnt that spiritualism was very much behind their farming practices. For instance, I recall at a farm in Garut (West Java), the farmer telling me,
‘We do prayer first’. He instructed me to take off my shoes. He explained,
‘That’s how we go one with the land – barefoot’. He then said,
‘Please don’t be offended when I ask whether you are in a good mood today?’
I was puzzled. He continued,
‘If you are not in a good mood, I’d rather not have you in my rich field. It will upset my plants. When the mood is good, everything tastes better and we get better productivity. We are less prone to failures’.
The farmers showed me that there is so much more to their farming besides agricultural practices. And it is because of this that we use the term ‘Indigenous Indonesia’ in our brand.
What were those early Javara days like?
The Javara company started operation in 2009 and during the first 2 years, we focused solely on the Indonesian market. We were met with resistance at first as people didn’t fully trust Indonesian organic products. Then in 2011 we turned our attention to the export market; in particular the USA and Belgium. Whilst holidaying in Bali, a buyer for a premium Swiss supermarket came across our products and from this, we entered the Swiss market.
From these early days we have now grown into a company that produces 747 different products of which 240 are certified organic. In reality, most of our items are organically grown but only some are certified, as the process of certification is expensive.
We now work with about 52,000 farmers across the Indonesian archipelago. To reward and inspire our farmers, each year some have the opportunity to travel overseas. This is an amazing experience for them!
What was Javara’s first product?
It was during these early days that I met an elderly farmer called Mbah Suko. He had filled many pots with different rice. The different grains were prospering. In total, Mbah Suko had collected a total of 55 varieties of heirloom rice, many of which were very rare*. I bought whatever Mbah Suko could sell to me and it was from these rice plants that we produced our first Javara Indigenous Indonesia product – our Heritage Rice Hamper with 8 varieties of different rice.
What’s in a Name?
Our brand Javara pronounced, ‘jawara’ – means champion. It refers to our champion products which are produced by champion farmers. We wanted to include the word ‘Indigenous’ as it encompass the fact that all our products are grown by indigenous farmers and a lot of the products are in fact indigenous to the Indonesian archipelago.
Our logo represents ladies carrying produce to the markets.
Did you know? Of the 7000 varieties of indigenous rice that once existed in Indonesia, only 1100 now remain
What do you love about your work?
Personally, I love to travel and I also love to cook. I enjoy working with lots of different ingredients. I always love being with – and meeting different people, especially from different cultures. You gain the wisdom from all these amazing individuals.
Who was your first Role Model?
Definitely my Mother; although I only recognised her significance when I started Javara. My Mother was always very caring, innovative and entrepreneurial. She was a good thinker and a solution maker. She built schools and fed the children. No problem was too big for her to surmount.
Who do you find inspiring and why?
Of course, my Mother but I’ve also received amazing support from my husband, Dian who has been by my side throughout the Javara journey.
The farmers are an inspiration to me too – their resilience is admirable as is their conviction in their products.
What’s your most treasured possession?
My family including my husband Dian and my son, Nafi.
What annoys you?
Not a lot really as I have learnt to accept and embrace things.
What delights you?
What are your favourite place/s to visit in Indonesia and why?
I especially love Eastern Indonesia because of the purity of air and water. It has a mystical feeling about it and it’s not over crowded. The culture is also very interesting.
Give 3 words to describe your Jakarta?
What’s your favourite Indonesian book?
An old cookbook that was commissioned during the Sukarno era, published in 1967. It has a collection of foods from across the archipelago and is called ‘Mustika Rasa’.
What’s your favourite Indonesian Movie? / Band ? / Singer ?
I prefer more traditional music – like folk music and ethno music.
Where’s your favourite place to eat in Jakarta?
Tea, Coffee or Juice? And where?
Coffee and juice. I particularly enjoy strong arabica coffee. My favourite beans are from Toraja (South Sulawesi) and Mandheling (North-East Sumatra).
Where do you go to relax and unwind?
My farm – or anywhere that relates with nature.
Please finish these sentences:
Every visitor to Jakarta should eat….. Ketoprak
Every visitor to Jakarta should visit….. The Old Town, ‘Kota Tua’ and also Taman Mini.
Every visitor to Jakarta should experience….. A traffic jam. You will never complain again about traffic in your home city!
If you could have dinner with a significant person, who would you invite?
Hmm, this is a tough question as I like to entertain many. Definitely someone who can systematically change life, like the President. Our President and in particular the Presidential Kitchen could be educated as I believe that currently, it does not celebrate Indonesian ingredients like it should.
Ibu Helianti’s favourite Javara products
Everything! – but especially Tamarin Honey, Coconut Oil and our Shallot & Chives blend.
Liz’ Favourite Javara products
Spekulas spice blend
Jo’s Favourite Javara products
Extra Virgil Coconut Oil
Black rice (for making Black Sticky Rice)
And finally, where can our readers find Javara products in Indonesia?
In almost every premium supermarket and of course, our flagship store (in Kemang, South Jakarta)
(For a comprehensive list of where you can buy Javara products in Indonesia, click here!)
ajb’s Top 5 Reasons to Support Javara
- Javara values and promotes the stories behind their premium products.
- Unlike other brands, Javara works hand-in-hand with local indigenous farmers, food artisans and biodiversity warriors to revive and sustain the existence of the heritage of Indonesian-grown products.
- Javara values and demonstrates an equitable trade with all of their supply chain partners.
- Javara recognises the importance of a safe and secure future for all. As a result, they solicit safer working conditions and social security insurance for farmers and food artisans.
- Javara isn’t just for now – it’s for the future too. By establishing their Youth Farmpreneurship, Javara teaches entrepreneurial best practices to farmers both young and old. This program has seen a marked increase in the number of younger people taking up farming as a viable career choice*.
(*When Javara was first established, most farmers were over 65 years old but now 40% are below 35 years of age).
Javara Indigenous Indonesia – Flagship Store
Graha BS Lantai 1
Jl. Kemang Utara A No. 3
Phone: +62 21 7183550
Monday – Friday 9am–6pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm
Looking to eat better in Jakarta? Try these posts…
Healthy Eating in Jakarta – Meet Max Mandias of Burgreens
Growing your own produce in Jakarta
The Smoothie Bowl in Jakarta – and How to Make Your Own
How to make Nita’s Black Sticky Rice
ajb’s Guide to Tropical Fruits of Indonesia
*Kenalkan – Let me introduce
Words: Jo Photography: a journey bespoke or Javara Indigenous Indonesia (as specified)