21 October 2018
Jones Lang LaSalle has converted a helipad at the Bank of America Tower in Hong Kong's Admiralty district into a rooftop farm. Photo: Jones Lang LaSalle
Jones Lang LaSalle has converted a helipad at the Bank of America Tower in Hong Kong's Admiralty district into a rooftop farm. Photo: Jones Lang LaSalle

How community farming can enrich our lives

Community farming has become a popular practice in recent years, with small-scale farmlands sprouting across cities and their peripheral areas in many parts of the world.

The activity utilizes available spaces and ensures greater variety of agricultural products. This model is prevalent not only in crowded megacities such as New York, it is also seen in places like Australia where there is plenty of farming space.

Last November, an online media outlet listed what it said were the five most successful community farms within New York City.

One of those on the list was a farm located on the rooftop of a vacant factory building in Brooklyn. The farm covers an area of 40,000 square feet and is believed to be the largest community farm in the US.

Most community farms won’t use up large spaces. If fact, they are often located in parks, backyards, open spaces in school campuses and rooftops of buildings.

Large-scale farming and enhancing productivity became key words after World War II. In order to boost productivity, farmers had resorted to extensive use of herbicides and pesticides.

But the chemicals have been causing damage to the farmland. This is one of the reasons why some people are choosing to scale down the activity by farming within communities.

In the farming industry, people have rediscovered the concept of “small is beautiful”.

Instead of using chemicals that would do more harm than good, community farmers would now use food leftover as fertilizer. Smaller scale means lower productivity, but it is enough if the farmer can be self-sufficient while supplying residents in the neighborhood at the same time.

As for Hong Kong, more and more locals nowadays enjoy farming during their days-off and weekends. Data from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department shows that there was a 26 percent surge in the number of leisure farms in four years, taking the figure to 132. 

Some non-governmental organizations are doing great job in providing farming opportunities for the citizens. For example, Mission Healthy Greens (MHG), an organization under the Jockey Club, is one of the few environmental groups specially designed for elderly people in the community.

The organization holds farming workshops from time to time. Professional farmers teach the participants planting techniques, and also give out seeds and organic fertilizer for them to practice.

MHF’s community farmlands are mostly located in public estates, universities, middle schools’ campuses and car park rooftops.

Meanwhile, the government has also done good work in promoting community farming. There are now around 1000 community farmlands in the city, managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD).

People can rent one of these farmlands for planting vegetables and fruits they like.

Every year, around 10,000 people join the LCSD’s farming program. However, because of the tremendous demand, each citizen can only rent the farmland for 4 months.

Four months is very short time for farming. In many cases, the lease period ends before people can harvest their crops.

Another thing that authorities need to bear in mind is that the initiatives must be targeted at enhancing the variety in local agricultural products, rather than boosting the productivity.

At a dinner gathering organized by independent think tank SD Advocates not long ago, Kenneth To Lap-kei, vice president of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, shared his views on local agricultural industry from the perspective of an urban planner.

He suggested that the government should add the concept of “urban farming” into the land-use planning process.

Authorities should also clarify whether it is legal to plant inside a factory building and sell the produce.

In other comments, To suggested that the application and licensing process should be eased to improve the access to land for community farming purpose.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 25. [Chinese version 中文版]

Adapted and translated by Betsy Tse 

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member of independent think tank SD Advocates

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