More Hong Kong organic farmers want support

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG —The number of organic farms that joined for government’s support had increased five times over the past 10 years, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

From 38 farms in 2004, the number of recipients of Organic Farming Support Services rose to 248 farms, covering 96.3 hectares total land area, said Sandy Chan of AFCD. The program helps local farmers tackle the difficulties they encounter, such as pest, diseases and weather conditions, she added.

The table shows the increase in number of Hong Kong farms that applied for OFSS. Data from Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

The department introduced new technologies to the farmers, including the integrated pest and disease management methods, the rain-shelter or greenhouse cultivation technology, and suitable crop varieties from other origins.

“The emphasis in organic farming is about achieving a natural balance with the environment in which a farm exists and to be as self-sustaining as possible,” Chan said.

After adopting the techniques and technology introduced by AFCD, farmers found that their income increased, she added.

Facing challenges of sustainability, some farmers switched the land use from food production to recreation and demonstration of organic farming practices, said Ranae So, manager of e-farm, a community farm in the city’s forested area in New Territories.

About 200 farms here are designed for recreation, while over a hundred farms are for food production, said So, also co-founder of Glocal Care. She will publish a book in July on situations of Hong Kong farms.

People volunteer in organic farms to relax and participate in green practices, she added.

Children participate in growing vegetables at e-farm in New Territories, Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF E-FARM

Mabel Lui, in her 50s, rents a piece of land at 300 Hong Kong dollars a month in the Urban Oasis, a community farm, initiated by Christian Action, a charity group here in Kowloon neighborhood.

Urban Oasis covers a total area of 7,000 square feet for gardening and medicinal plants therapy that involves the five senses.

City dwellers visit their vegetable gardens in Urban Oasis in Hong Kong on a Sunday afternoon. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Gabriel Ho Kai-pong, its project officer, said they also provide guided tours, green workshop, cooking classes and artworks from plants. Found within the area are stationary bicycles for demonstrating renewable energy.

Lui does not rely on her garden for vegetables, as she considers gardening as her hobby.

Children learn to plant in plastic bottles during an activity of Glocal Care in April in Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF GLOCAL CARE
“We are teaching our children about green lifestyle and the meaning of life by sowing seeds and nurturing them,” she said.

With over 7 million people, the city consumed a total of 2,270 metric tons of vegetables in 2013, but only 2 percent of which came from local farms, according to the AFCD’s report.#

Hong Kong’s ‘Herb Queen’ teaches rooftop farming

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — In most days, the city’s “Herb Queen” can be found tinkering with herbs and vegetables in plastic trays and pots at her “royal garden” on rocky slope in the outskirts of Choi Hung district.

Rowena Law, vice chairwoman of Hong Kong Association of Organic Industry, has carried the title given by local reporters since she became popular for selling herbs and teaching people how to grow herbs.

Named as “Herb Queen” by Hong Kong reporters, Rowena Law spends most of the time in her garden in Choi Hung district, Hong Kong. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

When the orchids business of her father, Law Ka Ki, declined over a decade ago, the bespectacled woman in her 40s moved to her parents’ lot along the way to Sai Kung East Country Park.

Without formal background in farming, she began to grow plants in pots, as trays were not yet available at the time. Huge sedimentary rocks dominate her area, making it difficult to plant on the ground.

Rowena Law harvests a beetroot from one of the plastic trays in her garden on a Sunday. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

She has developed techniques for organic farming through constant practice and informal sharing of knowledge and experiences with farmers from the city, China and Taiwan.

But, it became hard for her to grow food in pots, as harvests were not enough to sustain her. Hence, she switched to planting herbs in order to sell them and earn income.

The market for herbs was quite small at the time, she said, as people were not aware of the benefits from organic plants.

“Then, I started to teach how to grow herbs to earn more stable income,” she said on a Sunday in spring.

Law had a total of over 3,000 students, mostly female, of all ages, since she started teaching farming-related courses at the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions in 2003.

Some Hong Kong people just wanted to learn how to do it, but they did not plan to do farming for income, she said. Others wanted to do it as a hobby.

One of her students about six years ago, Louisa Wong, has visited Law in her vegetable garden since they met at the learning center. “I asked my ‘Miss’ whenever I wanted to ask for her advices,” said Wong.

Rowena Law explains to her friend and former student, Louisa Wong, the components of the soil mixture that she formulated. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Both Wong and Law are involved in programs implementing organic rooftop farming to raise awareness of organic farming among urban dwellers, including school children.

The programs also aim that rooftop farmers will have sustainable supply of vegetables for their own families.

Rooftop farming projects here include City Farm, Time to Grow, HK Farm and some universities, among others.

A screenshot from an interactive map of Time to Grow shows the locations of rooftop farms in Hong Kong. PHOTO TAKEN FROM THE WEBSITE OF TIME TO GROW

Instead of growing her own vegetables, Law sells a package of tray and soil to those who wanted to plant on their rooftops. A tray that is 60 centimeters wide, 90 centimeters long and 20 centimeters high costs 3,000 Hong Kong dollars. She rents out the same package at HK$600 a month.

She sells soil at HK$30 per liter. Having created the soil formula, she said it is made up of cow manure compost, and husks from coconut and rice. She gets 35 percent of compost supply from Hong Kong, while the rest are from China. The coconut husks are from Spain, and the rice husks from the Northern part of the city, where people grow organic rice.

While making the soil formula two years ago, she was thinking how to promote urban farming on abandoned rooftops of industrial buildings in Hong Kong.

Promoting plant-based food diet and healthy lifestyle, Law prefers to buy organically and domestically grown vegetables.

With her gloved hands, she caressed the black loose soil in a tray planted to asparagus under a small greenhouse.

“People should learn how to grow food from the soil so they learn how to care for their health and the environment.” #

Hong Kong restaurants turn green by offering vegetarian menu

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — More restaurants have shown concern for the environment by serving vegetarian-friendly menus, as vegetarianism is becoming a trend, a social enterprise here said Monday.

Over 1,000 restaurants have collaborated with Green Monday to improve their branding and help reduce carbon footprints, said Joyce Lau, the group’s program manager.

Some restaurants serve vegetarian menu at least once a week, usually on Monday to symbolize a “wholesome start” for green practices. As partners, they get support in consultation, marketing and public relations from the group.

Since its foundation in 2012, Green Monday has promoted positive adoption of green practices, instead of discouraging people from eating meat, Lau said.

Citing a recent report, Lau said Hong Kong had the highest beef consumption per capita with 56 kilograms (123.51 pounds).

A poster of Plantrician Project promotes plant-based diet. Green Monday Hong Kong posts this on its Facebook page.

The city had the largest quantity of beef and veal imported from the United States, along with Russia, as of April 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

Red meat comprised an average of 47.3 percent in the daily diet of Hong Kong respondents of ages from 18 to 64, during the 30 days prior to a survey in 2009, according to a 2012 report.

“With the improvement in the quality and variety of vegetarian cuisine, more and more people are willing to increase the proportion of plant-based food they eat,” Lau said.

Green Monday assigned Ipsos, a market research company, in 2014, to conduct phone interviews with 1,006 Hong Kong people of ages from 15 to 64, Lau said. The survey results, she cited, show that 23 percent of the population had vegetarian eating habit, 3 percent of which are full vegetarian.

In 2008, complete vegetarians comprised 2.4 percent of the Hong Kong population, according to a similar survey of the Hong Kong Vegetarian Society.

The trend of trying out vegetarian foods has been uprising in the city, said Hilda Tam, owner of a vegetarian restaurant, Fafa House, in Lamma Island.

Young people gather at Fafa House in Lamma Island, Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF HILDA TAM

Tam, who belongs to a vegetarian family, conceptualized the restaurant to introduce healthy options to non-vegetarians. “Some customers would see this place more as a normal café rather than vegetarian,” she said, making sure that her business attracts all sorts of customers.

More vegetarians visited her restaurant also because of the influence of Green Monday, the media and celebrities.

As Green Monday’s campaigns have gained grounds, more Hong Kong people buy high-quality vegetables and organic farm products, Lau said.

The group opened recently its first vegetarian concept store, Green Common, in Wan Chai. “The fact that lots of its products ran out quickly attests to this increasing demand,” Lau said.

Organic products have remained much more expensive than non-organic ones, she said. The difference of prices is “not as large as it used to be” and that it influences people’s choices, she added.

Using organic ingredients is not necessary for Tam, as she does not want her products to be too expensive. “Everybody could try fresh and healthy vegetarian food at a reasonable price.”#

Fafa House in Lamma Island, Hong Kong, serves various vegetarian desserts at reasonable prices, says its owner, Hilda Tam. PHOTO COURTESY OF HILDA TAM
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