Urban Farms: A Trip to Rooftop Republic by Oscar Ponton

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As Chinese New Year draws to an end and semester two unfolds here in Hong Kong, my campus garden continues to grow little by little with Spring, and increased humidity, just around the corner. Having set up the garden last semester on my post secondary campus, I have formed a tight knit group of gardening students who have helped me to create a small but sustainable green space on campus for both students and staff to enjoy.

Spurred on by my recent research into the area of urban gardening in Hong Kong, I decided to get in contact with some of the enterprises most established in the urban farming scene to try and organise a group visit with my students. I was quickly put in touch with Rooftop Republic, an urban gardening venture formed only two years ago but with over 20 farms set up so far, who invited the students and I to visit one of their most famous rooftop gardens in Central at the Fringe Club.

It proved to be a wonderful excursion for us, as we met Michelle Hong, one of the founding members of the social enterprise who gave us a tour of the garden and explained the key concepts and frameworks behind the venture. The company essentially specializes in providing professional services to set up and maintain farms for businesses and clients across Hong Kong life, whilst equally encouraging people to get involved with growing their own produce and promoting sustainable living. They consist of a team of experts in farm design and installation, permaculture, and farm management, as Michelle was able to give us invaluable advice on how to improve different aspects of our own gardening club, which had begun to feel rather small scale by this point.

With the garden placed on top of the prestigious Fringe Club in Central, a well-known not-for profits arts space and organisation which also doubles up as a restaurant, we were right in the heart of Hong Kong’s cultural core. The garden’s main use was to provide fresh vegetables for the restaurant downstairs, yet a large amount of the company’s food harvests also goes towards local food banks like Feeding Hong Kong as a communal gesture. They also use this garden to host regular urban gardening workshops for those with little to no experience, aiming to use urban gardening as a tool for transformative change at a social and educational level.

Gardens like this essentially demonstrate how the growing realities of food security and organic farming can be realised and sustainably managed within an urban setting. All it needs is a little care and communal investment for such green spaces to take off, and the students and I were suitably thrilled to have visited such a productive and stable urban garden environment.

Following on from our last trip, we have been invited to visit one of their largest gardens in Tung Chung in the coming weeks, to get a glimpse of how larger scale farming works in an organic and sustainable setting. Talks are also in place to organise an urban gardening event with Chatteris in April, to increase CNET’s eco-awareness and try to encourage more of us to set up our own gardens on campus. As our understanding of urban farming develops, our gardening club continues to grow, and hopefully we will be able to apply these practices to the garden in the coming months to help leave a sustainable mark in the future.

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Myself with the students and Michelle Hong at the Fringe Club garden


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