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From Urban Farm to Table

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It’s break time. But instead of going shopping at the mall or checking social media, you decide to spend time hanging out in nature. You slowly walk along rows of lush plants breathing in the scent of rosemary and basil. A sense of well-being comes over you as you enjoy the sight of budding flowers, ruby tomatoes growing on a vine, and butterflies fluttering around your head. You water the plants and pull up a few weeds, knowing that soon, you’ll be bringing home fresh, organic produce you nurtured yourself.

If this seems like an impossible scenario because you’re an urbanite without a garden, think again! Urban farms are popping up all over Hong Kong’s city centre thanks to the help of pioneering urban farming organisations like Rooftop Republic, who are changing how city folk enjoy nature one rooftop and terrace at a time.

A welcome movement that welcomes everyone

Urban farming is a movement that’s been growing all around the world, and Hong Kong is no exception. Since its establishment over five years ago, Rooftop Republic alone has helped start 51 urban farms covering over 55,000 square feet, and there are plenty more urban farms out there. But that’s not enough, Rooftop Republic
co-founder Pol Fábrega explains, telling us the mind-boggling fact that there are 6,000,000 square metres of unused rooftop spaces in the city that are perfect for urban farming. That’s almost as much agricultural land already being farmed in Hong Kong!

The most basic reason that people are getting involved in urban farming is to be able to eat produce without the loss of flavor and nutrition. Timing is everything when it comes to fruit and vegetables. The longer it takes for produce to reach our tables, the more nutrients it loses—for example, a Penn State University study found that spinach can lose up to a 90% of its nutrients within 24 hours of harvest.

For businesses and organisations, the sustainability trend is one of the biggest reasons for starting an urban farm, but there’s also been an increasing focus on the health benefits of having plants around the workplace. Urban farming gives employees a chance to connect with nature and each other, nurturing not just well-being but also loyalty and team spirit. theDesk’s Chief Community Engagement Officer, Cecilia Chan, explains, “Meaning and wellness are two of the big indicators of a good work experience. Urban farming provides a way to create a shared experience between team members, solidifying their core values and trust in each other. Working together also helps create a community that looks out for each other and helps each other grow and flourish, which dovetails perfectly with theDesk’s mission to connect people together.”

Bring your own harvest home from home from theDesk Community Urban Farming Program.
Photo credit: Matthieu Millet

How does your garden grow?

But what if you’re one of those people who have never even grown a dandelion, let alone vegetables in an urban farm? No worries, says Pol. Paraphrasing environmental figurehead and farmer Wendell Berry, Pol says cheerily, “If you eat, you’re in.” After spending five years working with a wide range of clients, from property developers to restaurants, Pol believes that anyone can get involved in urban farming. “There’s something in it for everyone, whether it’s well-being, health, or community. Food is a universal language that everyone can relate to.” Plus, Hong Kong’s climate makes it easy for us to plant year-round. While summer’s heat and humidity can be a little challenging, there are plenty of summer bounties like broad beans, pumpkins, and cucumbers to get you through this time.

“Learning is part of the process, you learn as you go along, and you learn by connecting with other farmers and getting advice.” With that said, Pol urges beginners to start off with easier plants like herbs and leafy greens, and before long, you’ll find yourself addicted to the small thrills of farming. Pol describes it as a “very rewarding experience that’s full of surprises and new discoveries every time. Just the process of planting a seed, nurturing it and watching it grow into food—it is magic. In a way, you’re a part of the story of the food getting onto your plate.”

“Just the process of planting a seed, nurturing it and watching it grow into food—it is magic.” Pol. Paraphrasing, Co-Founder of Rooftop Republic.
Photo Credit: Matthieu Millet

Quick and dirty urban farming tips

  • Find an outdoor space you can use. Pol advises to check whether the space is suitable for load bearing, especially if your building was built before the 1980s. 
  • Soil is going to be your best friend. You’ll need to make sure that it’s properly nourished with compost or fertiliser.
  • Know what to plant and when. Many plants are seasonal and need to be planted at specific times.  
  • Enjoy the time you’re spending with nature and with your co-farmers. Farming is all about connecting not just with nature but also with each other. 

Explore events at theDesk and sign up now to secure your own planter.

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