Hong Kong’s Organic Farming Boom
In these days of rising concerns about food safety, we’re all looking for ways to maintain a healthier diet. I’ve never been a health fanatic, but I pay a lot more attention to diet and fitness than I used to; and I find that this is a widespread trend among many of my friends and associates.
We recently signed up for an organic vegetable delivery service in Hong Kong, which delivers locally grown organic veggies to your home. The farm is an affiliate of an American-style. Italian restaurant called Posto Pubblico, on Elgin Street, in Hong Kong’s trendy Soho District, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
The restaurant’s American founders pride themselves on serving really fresh, delicious vegetables; and in a conversation with one of them some months back I learned that in order to deliver consistent quality, they grow the vegetables for their kitchen on their own organic farm in Hong Kong’s New Territories. Production is of sufficient volume to sell to customers directly as well, so they launched the farm-to-home delivery service, with the assistance of a delivery company.
I’ve only been a customer for a couple of weeks, but I must say it’s a great service so far: a good variety of delicious fresh veggies, delivered to your door once (or if you prefer, twice) a week, at prices which are lower than local retail prices of comparable organic produce. That is to say, higher in price than regular non-organic produce from supermarkets or wet markets, but lower in price than other organic produce available in retail outlets. And yes, you can taste the difference.
One thing I like about this restaurant-plus-farm venture is that it demonstrates the founders’ commitment to innovate and develop something new and different in order to live up to their quality commitment. (Full disclosure: I have no commercial or other interest in either the restaurant or the farm. I just enjoy their products and service.)
An interesting backdrop to this is that organic farming is on an upswing in Hong Kong. A few years ago there were about 15 organic farms, located mainly in two parts of the New Territories. Today there are more than 160, spread across a wider range of districts. The Hong Kong Government’s Agriculture and Fisheries Department has a special unit offering support and advice to aspiring or existing organic farmers. There is even a do-it-yourself organic farm where individuals can rent a small plot of land and grow their own.
This illustrates two key qualities which proponents of the “green movement” have long espoused, namely organic as well as locally grown.
Some 98% of Hong Kong’s vegetables are currently imported, mainly from the Chinese mainland. Contrast that with as recently as the late 1970s, when Hong Kong was almost self-sufficient in vegetable production, and you can see the unmistakable trend: rapid urbanization and a shift away from animal and crop agriculture. Where there were farmlands, now there are bustling new towns, container yards, and automotive repair facilities.
But it will come as a surprise to many that this is actually a fairly recent development, which would not have been possible without China’s reform. policies.
As of today, only 19 square kilometers of land in Hong Kong is still being farmed, by less than 5,000 farmers. As in many other trades, Hong Kong farmers have also expanded across the border into various parts of China.
The recent boom in organic farming is unlikely to reverse the fundamental trend away from agriculture in Hong Kong, but in the meantime it’s a very welcome development for health-conscious consumers.
And maybe it’s an idea with room to grow across the border as well. Let’s hope so.