24 October 2018
Organic produce doesn't come cheap because of the time and effort put into it. Photo: Internet
Organic produce doesn't come cheap because of the time and effort put into it. Photo: Internet

Why growing organic produce is a tough job

Thanks to better transport facilities, businessmen have been importing regional agricultural products from various locations with ease.

This enables customers, for instance, to have choy sum from Ningxia and daikons from Tianjin.

Mainland vegetables look good and cheap and have been giving their Hong Kong counterparts a run for their money since the 1980s.

Hong Kong, however, does not have strict food labelling requirements. Individual sellers in wet markets, could only recap what they have been told by wholesalers or distributors regarding the origin of the vegetables.

A year ago, an explosion in Tianjin caused serious pollution, stirring up food safety concerns. It was one time when people tried to avoid products from the affected area but that was hardly possible.

Nowadays, it is not unusual to have pea shoots in summer but it comes at a price: the high carbon footprint of transporting pea shoots from the farmland to Hong Kong, and increasing use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers for growing crops that are not particularly in season are potential risks to the environment and people’s health.

I have a few friends who are local farmers and I source vegetables from their farms, hoping to apply my dream of running farm-to-table dishes in my restaurant.

Recent crops have been mainly gourds such as hairy gourd, angled luffa and winter melon. Pigweed and water spinach are fantastic, too.

Still, certain compromises have to be made for a number of reasons. First, Hongkongers are used to having green leafy vegetables all year round. They would be disappointed if they were offered only either pigweed or water spinach.

Second, price would be a bigger constraint, as customers might not be willing to pay double the price for a local produce.

Third, it is hard for the farms to guarantee the supply of organic vegetables due to the business scale.

Hong Kong-grown crops are winning favor from top hotels but the management in the end don’t source them from local farms because of unstable supply.

The problem is everyone is too used to the convenience of modern food production and does not remember the essence of food growing. You might change your mind and stop complaining that organic vegetables are too expensive if you know how these are produced.

My farmer friends told me that many pumpkins and hairy gourds withered due to mildew — a kind of fungal infection. Meanwhile, fruit flies could spoil the fruits.

For typical farmers, the problem could be resolved by using pesticides. As for organic farmers, they first have to sterilize the soil with lime before planting. Each of the fruit has to be wrapped with a net to prevent it from being attacked by insects.

Organic farming involves more work but produces fewer products, although these are healthier and more delicious.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 25

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The supply of locally grown organic produce is small and unstable due to inadequate policy support and local farmers’ financial burdens. Photo: Internet

Columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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