When it comes to greenery in Hong Kong, looks can be deceiving. The city is chock-a-block with commercial skyscrapers and high-rise tenement-style residences -- with barely enough room for its population of seven million, let alone swathes of grassy farmland for crops.
But in actuality, less than 25% of Hong Kong's land is
developed and 40% of the total space is made up of parks and nature reserves.
And though much agricultural production has been outsourced to southern China,
there remains a motley crew of modern-day farmers --
made up of both veteran old-timers and a young, trendy trowel-toting set -- who
are committed to promoting the consumption of locally-farmed fruit and
vegetables and growing produce in even the most urban areas of Hong Kong.
Michael Leung, a designer with a self-taught passion
beekeeping, is among the young
and trendy group. Along with compatriots Matthew Edmondson and Glenn Ellingsen,
Leung founded HK
Farm in April 2012, where the team grows organic herbs and
vegetables in an unlikely setting -- a 4,000sqft rooftop in the grey,
industrial neighbourhood of Ngau Tau Kok. In its first months, HK Farm
successfully cultivated tomatoes, basil and other crops, opening up their
rooftop to visitors on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
"We're interested in people seeing the rooftop,” said
Leung. “If they want to buy herbs, we can cut them right in front of them. Things
seem to grow in our urban environment."
Though they took a short break during the summer when
Hong Kong's climate is too hot for many plants, in September HK Farm will be
doubling the number of crops they grow from 10 to 20, from string beans and
papaya to jalapeno peppers and okra. They’ll also be starting up their weekend
open houses again. It's a real community effort, using soil from a local
farm in their planters and taking waste from nearby
restaurants to make fertilizer and future plans include collaborating with
local cafes. Their work has been recognized internationally, too; HK Farm was
asked to represent
Hong Kong at the Venice Architecture Biennale this year.
Leung notes the myriad benefits of rooftop farms, from
helping to improve air quality to reducing air-conditioning and heating costs
in the building below. Along with Kubrick, an
indie cafe, bookstore and small publishing house in the Yau Ma Tei neighbourhood,
HK Farm is producing a book about urban agriculture in Hong Kong.
"It will be a tool to help convince landlords,
property developers and the government to really start thinking about urban
agricultural projects," Leung explained.
Hong Kong is also home to other rooftop farms, such as
Farm and Eco-Mama.
Like HK, they welcome visitors to show that, as unintuitive as it may be, Hong
Kong is a concrete jungle that has elements of a green one, too.
Hana R Alberts is the Hong Kong
Localite for BBC Travel