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Hong Kong's rooftop farms look up to the skies

by Simon Yuen on Apr 18, 2017 in Lifestyle , Top Story
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Tall buildings near rooftop farms can block direct sunlight, but can also prove to be helpful, providing protection for the crops against strong winds

Tall buildings near rooftop farms can block direct sunlight, but can also prove to be helpful, providing protection for the crops against strong winds

With its abundant sunshine and rain, Hong Kong is perfectly set up for urban farming — and the lack of space at ground-level is proving to be no deterrent at all, as proponents of the movement are looking upwards to the thousands of idle rooftops across the city

Ever since the bulk of its manufacturing and farming industries moved northwards across the border to mainland China, Hong Kong has relied on imported produce and goods. But with increasing numbers of food scares, from toxic fertilisers to 'fake' rice, the territory's citizens are ramping up their awareness of key issues such as environmental protection and food safety. One of the direct results of these concerns has been the growth of urban farming, as more people do whatever they can to ensure the quality of the produce they and their families consume.

Pol Fàbrega, one of the founders of Rooftop Republic, says they have designed over 20 farms spanning more than 2,200 sq-ft across the city, which play a key role in promoting environmental protection and organic farming

Pol Fàbrega, one of the founders of Rooftop Republic, says they have designed over 20 farms spanning more than 2,200 sq-ft across the city, which play a key role in promoting environmental protection and organic farming

One such organisation is City Farm. Founded in 2011, it operates three rooftop farms in the districts of Chai Wan, Kwun Tong and Tsuen Wan, offering farming classes and space for the public to create and tend to their own compact farms. With industrial enterprises having vacated the area decades ago, City Farm has stepped in to make use of the abundant empty buildings which once housed factories.

"We always look for rooftop spaces in industrial areas," explains Osbert Lam, founder of City Farm. "Apart from low rental, industrial buildings are also designed to carry heavy loading, making them ideal for us to design farms in."

Osbert Lam, owner of City Farm, which offers farming classes and daily management services for tenants

Osbert Lam, owner of City Farm, which offers farming classes and daily management services for tenants

The Chai Wan branch of City Farm can accommodate about 300 mini farms; each measuring approximately two metres wide by three metres long. These raised planting
beds are grouped and evenly spaced to meet the loading requirement of the building structure.

According to Lam, it is easier to manage farms on rooftops than fields in the countryside. An ideal location for rooftop farms requires surrounding taller buildings to provide cover on windy days, but they must also allow sufficient sunlight to reach the farms so as not to hamper the growth of crops. To provide additional protection, City Farm also set up windbreaks on the east or northeast sides of the rooftop.

Hong Kong's climate makes year-long planting easy, even in winter, when produce such as kale, tomatoes, carrots, lemongrass and eggplants are some of the common crops grown at City Farm.

In creating a rooftop farm at The Fringe Club, extra caution was required as the original structure is classed as a Grade 1 historic building, dating back about 125 years

In creating a rooftop farm at The Fringe Club, extra caution was required as the original structure is classed as a Grade 1 historic building, dating back about 125 years

At the moment, rooftop farming remains a leisure activity. Hong Kong's government has strict regulations over the use of industrial buildings in place, but Lam hopes that a loosening of the restrictions will take place in order to help promote agriculture.

"Hong Kong has a good climate for farming — we can harvest different crops across four seasons," he says. "But for now, rooftop farms are only a place where a few citizens can experience and enjoy farming. However, I hope that in future, rooftop farms will be able to supply food to the market so that urban farmers can earn a living."

This is an excerpt from the “Gardens in the sky" article from the April 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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