Hong Kong Goes Higher for Farming

December 06, 2013

(Hong Kong) While skyscrapers have taken over the majority of productive land in Hong Kong, some young Hong Kong citizens are going higher to create their own private farms.

“It’s a place for growing. For me, it’s kind of a place to escape, relax, and take care the garden,” said a 31 year-old business consultant Anthony Ko, who spends most of his weekends taking care of his model rooftop farm in Yau Ma Tei, a bustling business district of Hong Kong.

Anthony Ko is one of the four young co founders of Hong Kong Farm, a non-profit rooftop farming project in Hong Kong, which conducts regular workshops to train Hong Kong people in farming techniques and teach them how to make use of their available rooftop space.

Established two years ago, the Hong Kong Farm project is one of a few successful rooftop farming projects that aim to introduce modern urban farming to Hong Kong and promote awareness of organic farming to modern young people in Hong Kong.

“The idea is to connect people to nature,” said Mr Ko, adding that young people in such a big city have very few opportunities to experience nature and the way that farmers work.

The population of Hong Kong reached 7.15 million last year, but the vast majority of the city’s food supplies are imported from mainland China and other countries.

According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Hong Kong has over 2,500 farms, but they are able to supply only 2 percent of the fresh vegetables in local markets, while over 98 percent were imported.

Therefore, the Hong Kong government and the private sector have been working to promote awareness of organic farming and local products.  

AFCD has also encouraged Hong Kong farmers to turn to organic farming and seek other means to extend their farming activities. By June 2013, according to a report from AFCD, Hong Kong had over 460 organic farms.

The University of Hong Kong has become one of many private entities to promote local farming. The Rooftop Farming Project, which has been planting crops since June, was officially launched last month to promote the idea of sustainable development and organic farming to students.

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With just plastic boxes and compost soil, many vegetables—including salad greens, tomatoes, herbs and bitter melons—can been grown. The vegetables in the university’s project are now growing so well that they have entirely taken over the broad concrete floor of the Runme Shaw building in a massive swath of green leaves and stems.

“Actually, this project hopes to demonstrate that one person can actually do food recycling on the campus, like we can grow vegetables here and consume them, and the food waste can return to the farm as fertilizer,” said Celeste Shai, a project manager for the university’s Rooftop Farming Project.

Via farming, she added, students can learn about the environment and nutritional impacts of transporting vegetables over long distances.

“On this farm, we use the organic method to farm. We want [students] to learn about the seasons,” she said. “Some years ago, you could only buy watermelon in summer, but now you can find it even in winter because the fruits are brought from places miles away from Hong Kong.”

According to Ms. Shai, around 24 students come to the rooftop regularly to take care of their individual vegetables, which can be identified by their names on vegetable boxes. The project will be expanded to supply vegetables to an on-campus restaurant in the next few months to promote healthy food consumption for students.

Food Safety and Quality

Although food quality and safety is strictly checked, local Hong Kong consumers are still concerned about health issues, especially the amount of nutrition contained in imported food.

Ms. Shai expressed her concerns that long-term consumption of vegetables grown with chemical fertilizers can cause harm to people’s health in Hong Kong.

“We know that some farms have been using too much fertilizer. The land is being poisoned by chemical fertilizer. This may not harm humans’ health at the moment, but what about long-term effects of this consumption?” she asked.

Similarly, Mr. Ko said the transportation of vegetables to Hong Kong over very long distances can reduce the amount of nutrition and quality of food.

“There are some quite serious concerns about the food safety. Any time you import food, the nutrition value is going down because of the process [of transportation],” he said. “Whenever you transport it, you have to preserve it or freeze it, which takes away some protein value of the food. But when you grow it yourself, you are more likely to harvest it and eat it right away, and it tastes better as well.”

More participants

Because of the large amount of imported produce from Mainland China and other countries, more young and local Hong Kong people are inspired by the rooftop farming project. Some of them had started their own farming at their balcony or rooftop.

“It’s quite inspiring. There are a lot more young people involved,” said Mr. Ko. “The facts that young people are getting engaged with rooftop farming, it means that there is more connection to nature.”

Likewise, students at the University of Hong Kong have been going green by starting to plant some crops in the limited space of their homes.

“We have seen the changes among the Hong Kong people in recent years, so we start this project…some of our team members have started to grow their own crops at home even though they only have a window shield or balcony,” said Ms. Shai, adding that she sees Hong Kong in the future as being like New York City, where people can enjoy many fruits and vegetables from rooftop farms.

“Some working people actually spend their spare time before going to work, they go up to take care of their plants at around 7 a.m. I think they [rooftop farming projects] are quite successful in promoting the concept of growing your own food,” she said.

Of course, rooftop farming in Hong Kong is still limited, and not all plants are fit to grow on rooftops with a very limited depth of soil, but new urban farmers can still enjoy seeing their plants growing every day. If they work hard, they can even taste their own vegetables grown on their personal rooftop farms.

“Of course, it is happy to eat the fruits or vegetable that you grow on your own, It tastes different from those that available in the markets because you don’t know how long ago those vegetable have been cut off and transported to Hong Kong,” Ms. Shai recalled the feeling of eating the first harvested vegetable from the University’s farming project last month.

“The taste that you really know what meant by fresh compared to those you can buy at the markets. Even though they look fresh, they taste different,” she said. “You should try it yourselves in order to tell.”


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