by Thomas Gomersall
The fossil fuel industry may get a lot of blame for climate change, but another big industry also shoulders plenty of responsibility: agriculture. Currently it accounts for over a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions (roughly 13.7 billion metric tonnes per year (1)), and a considerable portion of that comes from transporting food around the world. One of the best ways to fight climate change as individuals is to change the way we eat, including (among other things) sourcing our food from within the countries we live in.
When it comes to finding locally sourced food, however, Hong Kongers have it harder than most as 90 per cent of our food is imported from mainland China, as well as Brazil, Thailand, the US and many other places. Moreover, the city’s once thriving agricultural sector has taken a serious hit in the last decades. The expansion of towns like Sheung Shui and Yuen Long in the 1970s and 80s led to the loss of much of its agriculture land, while the remaining farming communities struggle to stay afloat as people opt for better paying, less physically demanding jobs in urban centres.
Still, Hong Kong agriculture exists and for the environmentally conscious, it is possible to buy locally sourced foods — as long as one knows what they are and how to get them. Here are some suggestions:
Rice: You might ask: “Why bother sourcing rice from Hong Kong when it can’t be much different from imported rice from the mainland?” Actually it can. Because if you buy rice from Long Valley near Sheung Shui, you will not only be cutting your rice-related carbon emissions, you will also be supporting environmentally friendly farming and endangered species conservation. As part of the Long Valley Eco-Paddy Co-Operative Society (co-organised by the Conservancy Association and the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society), members of the public can help local farmers to plant and harvest rice using traditional, low-impact methods. The harvested rice can later be given as a reward to participants or bought online at the Conservancy Association’s website. This money provides farmers with an income, and goes to maintaining the rice paddies, a vital habitat for the critically endangered yellow breasted bunting.
Eggs and Vegetables: Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens may be better known for environmental protection and wildlife rehabilitation. But as the terraces of spinach, pomelo, kale and Chinese cabbage covering much of its 148 acre grounds show, it isn’t called a farm for nothing. All of its produce are treated with natural fertilisers and wrapped in paper for sale at the Farm Shop and Museum.
Kadoorie Farm also has a flock of chickens and the rich taste of their eggs is well worth the HK$28 per box. Those with an interest in growing their own vegetables may even like to buy a bag of bat guano fertiliser. If you don’t fancy traveling to Lam Tsuen, Kadoorie Farm sells most of its produce every Sunday at Star Ferry Central Pier №7 from 11am-5pm.
Honey: Not all locally sourced food in Hong Kong is produced in the far-flung corners of the New Territories. Some of it is made right in the heart of the urban jungle. Case in point: honey. Surprisingly, Hong Kong is home to several bee farms, with one of the most famous being Wing Wo Bee Farm, just a stone’s throw away from the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. Established as a family-run business in 1983, it uses native Chinese honey bees (Apis cerana) to produce a wide range of honey, each one tasting differently depending on the flowers the bees that made it fed from. For instance in the summer, when the flowers of the lychee and longan bloom, one can buy honey that tastes like these fruits. Better still for those who would rather avoid a steep uphill walk for this honey, one can also buy a jar from the Hyatt Regency Hotel (located near the University MTR Station in Sha Tin), where it is used to make their famous honey apple pie.
Fish: Unlike many of the foods on this list, a buyer does not have to travel to a very specific location to find locally sourced fish. Fish from the ponds in the northwest New Territories and offshore floating net cages can be found in wet markets and supermarkets across Hong Kong. However, environmental sustainability is not measured only in food miles. When buying or ordering fish, it’s also important to know about its provenance and the farming practices used. Fish from farms that don’t source their juvenile fish or the fish used to feed them from the wild, or heavily regulate use and discharge of chemicals, are obviously more sustainable than fish from farms that don’t do these things. One way to find out is to ask the shop or restaurant manager if it is from a sustainable source. You can also download the WWF Seafood Guide app, which provides detailed information on the farming practices, country of origin, and appearance of commonly sold fish species in Hong Kong. The latter is particularly useful when two species with drastically different sustainability ratings look very similar, as in the case of the sustainably farmed pompano and the unsustainably wild-caught pomfret.
Strawberries: Think you can only get strawberries imported from the US? Think again. Just a 20-minute ride on the 52B minibus from the Fanling MTR on the banks of a shallow, babbling brook in the village of Hok Tau, lies the Rainbow Organic Strawberry Farm. Between December and May, this farm allows visitors to pick their own strawberries fresh from the stem for HK$70 per pound, and sells choi sum, tomatoes and corn for the rest of the year. And it’s not that much of an exaggeration to say that you will be hard-pushed to find strawberries sweeter, juicier or more succulent than those anywhere in Hong Kong. Produce aside, it’s also just a lovely place to be. Kneeling amongst the rows of strawberries, surrounded by greenery with no sounds but the whirr of cicadas and the buzzing of bees, it’s hard to believe you’re in Hong Kong.
1. Poore J; Nemecek T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360: 987–992.