Growing Watermelons on a Causeway Bay Roof

Community

A watermelon patch? In the midst of one of Hong Kong’s busiest urban environments? That is exactly what we are doing on Hysan Place’s rooftop. And not just watermelons, but also pumpkins, the less glamourous pak choy, radish, beetroot, and plenty more. The Hysan Urban Farm is unique in Hong Kong because of its size, location, and the people who farm there.

SEED (Sustainable Ecological Ethical Development Foundation) is Hysan’s partner here and the NGO that helped put together a year-round organic farming programme for the farmers.

“Some are Hysan’s tenants, and you will find bankers, accountants, insurance agents farming alongside retail salespeople, Bamboo Grove residents, and many more,” said Jessica Lau, the development officer of SEED. “It is a great place to promote the message of work-life balance. What could be better than a couple of fun hours of farming in between a day’s work in an air-conditioned office?”

The farm also serves an educational role. “We want kids who spend endless hours facing computer screens and mobile phones to look up and learn there is more to life than the virtual world. Here the biodiversity is amazing. Not only do you see the fruits and vegetables growing, you also get to meet insects and animals close-up. A great summer activity is to help catch grasshoppers up here,” said Jessica. In fact, Hong Chi Association’s special schools have been arranging regular classes up on the roof to teach green and healthy living to their students with intellectual disabilities. Many other schools and community organisations have also arranged visits to see this rooftop oasis and to learn first-hand about the dos and don’ts of urban organic farming. The workshops also help the participants to know more about the effects of climate change and other green issues.

“It’s literally the jewel in the crown for a world-class green building,” said Grace Mak, Hysan’s volunteer team leader and, by now, a pretty decent farmer herself. “For the close to a thousand people who have worked on the farm, it is really an experience they will not forget. It never ceases to amaze me that you can plant and grow vegetables on this scale, literally an elevator ride away above some of Hong Kong’s busiest shops and offices. We have such a good time farming there with our colleagues and others.”

So where do the watermelons and pumpkins go? As we are not growing on a commercial scale, they go back to the homes and fridges of the farmers. When they take big juicy bites out of the fruits and veggies, they know very well that all the hours spent on the rooftop were definitely not wasted.