Hong Kong urban farmers find bliss in rooftop gardens
Rooftops in densely populated Hong Kong are fast turning greener and more fertile as urban farmers seek to grow crops from their homes and offices and create a more liveable community.
Kale, cherry tomatoes, radishes and all kinds of herbs are blossoming atop commercial and residential buildings, with farmers believing that they can surmount space restrictions and make the city a more pleasant home for its urban dwellers, reports South China Morning Post.
Some 60 rooftop farms and 1,400 farmers have emerged locally over the past decade, and a handful of farms are added each year, said Mathew Pryor, an associate professor and head of the landscape architecture division at the University of Hong Kong.
More than 7.38 million people now live in just 2,754 square kilometers in the city, and only 24 percent of the land is developable urban area. Hong Kong is likely to stay the world’s most densely populated city in 2025, according to a Bloomberg study.
Sustainable living group Rooftop Republic is one of the city’s most active farming groups. It now manages 33 farms spanning 30,000 square feet.
“Growing up in high-rise, high-density cities such as Hong Kong naturally disconnects us from nature,” said Andrew Tsui, co-founder of the two-year-old start-up.
“So I started thinking, as ordinary working city dwellers, how we could incorporate nature into our lifestyle.”
Working at a private equity fund until five years ago, Tsui has always been interested in sustainability in his projects. He grew curious to see whether it could take root in Hong Kong.
“[Urban farming] was still mainly in the U.S. and Europe at that time, where people have bigger pieces of land and can build community farms around neighbourhoods,” he said.
Tsui then started a part-time interest group and tested rooftop farming. In 2015, he co-founded Rooftop Republic with Pol Fabrega, who had worked in the non-profit and education sectors, and Michelle Hong, whose expertise included marketing, communications and project management.
Now the social enterprise serves corporate clients by turning their rooftop space into farms. The group also provides workshops and organizes community activities.
All the city’s rooftop farming groups are formed spontaneously from the bottom up, Pryor claims.
His research shows that the farmers are usually either young professionals or early retirees concerned about the environment.
To them, rooftop farming is much more than just about producing food, Pryor says. In fact, none of the farms produces much food or even intends to.
“The key product of urban farming is really happiness,” he said. “It’s the social cohesion and the community interaction.
“They grow a few tomatoes that you wouldn’t buy in the shops, and they are really, really happy, spending weeks posting images on Facebook of their two tomatoes.”
Pryor describes the potential for urban farming as enormous. He estimates that Hong Kong has more than 600 hectares of farmable rooftop area.
Demand for farming in the city is also high. Some 1,500 people, for example, have entered a lucky draw for 55 planting plots in the community garden at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sai Ying Pun this year, according to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which operates the space. The planting plots can be rented for four months at a time.
But Tsui and other urban farmers face significant regulatory hurdles.
To transform an idle rooftop into a farm or set up a garden for a new building, one must secure several approvals from the buildings department and other government offices.
Topics: Architectural Firms, Building Owners and Managers, Engineering Firms, Environmental Firms, Exteriors, Green Roofs / Garden Roofs, Multifamily / Multiunit Residential, Office Buildings, Roofing