Tai Po’s Living Farm on Educating HK on Crops and Farming
Hong Kong/ Terra/ Nature

Understanding Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farm’s Godfrey Leung

1 Understanding Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farms Godfrey Leung

Godfrey Leung began Living Farm as an homage to his earlier schooling in the UK, where he immediately noticed a huge difference in education and engagement when it came towards food production. Perhaps he didn’t know what 'food production' meant at the time, but 10-year-old Godfrey's fondest memories always took place on his primary school farm and the farmhouses of his childhood friends. 

After completing his degree in architecture and interior design in the UK, he decided to return to Hong Kong for a 7-year stint in exhibition and events planning. His long-dormant interest in farming that had latched onto him well into adulthood came into hyper-drive when a village head showed him a large plain of land in Tai Po. That’s when it finally clicked, and he thought to himself, “Why not?”

Living Farm as it stands today is a family owned and family run share farm, with each member of the family pulling their weight in whatever way they can. Mum helps look after the food and the back office, Dad helps with the weeds and taking care of the plots, and the wife organises art galleries and workshops for families and friends renting the farm spaces. With this modest team of family and part-timers, there is no end to the care of all 180 rentable plots – each plot worth 80 kilograms worth of soil.

Reflecting on his near-decade work at Living Farm, Godfrey looks back at his beginnings from novice to educator, sharing what he’s learned about running a community-dependent business. While weathering the heat, hard labour, and patience required to go from seed to harvest. He chats to The Beat Asia about the noticeable changes he’s witnessed in animal migration and the climate, and how it’s left a mark on his farming.

1 Understanding Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farm’s Godfrey Leung
Living Farm/Godfrey Leung

Why did you start Living Farm?

I started this place to hopefully offer other people a retreat, where they can relax and basically get away from the hectic life of Hong Kong. It's something that I experienced when I came back to Hong Kong from the UK. The pace of Hong Kong is very, very fast, and it could be very stressful.

A place like this is where people can enjoy during the weekends or even the weekdays, a place where they can relax and they can just kind of chill out; maybe it'll even have a therapeutic effect on some people. It's a place where they can slow down.

What is the underlying message that you would like to express through Living Farm?

I want people to know more about how vegetables are grown. Out of the people who come and rent the plots, probably 50% [of them] are families with kids, the other 50% are retired people, housewives, or friends in the working class coming together to relax. For families, this is something that they can teach their kids that the food does not come from the supermarket. It takes time, it takes hard work, and they need to value the food rather than wasting it.

Sometimes, bad weather can damage your hard work, we do have kids here with their family and they spend like two or three months growing the stuff, but because of a typhoon because of the black or red rainstorm, they [end up] totally losing the crops. It’s something that is also a lesson for them to learn that, okay, [your hard work] may be damaged, but you can do it again. It’s not the end. It’s quite a deep lesson for the kids to learn, it’s a process.

Understanding 2 Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farm’s Godfrey Leung
Living Farm/Godfrey Leung

What are some misconceptions about farming that you’ve noticed laymen might have about farming?

They don't actually know how long lettuce or a sweet corn will take to grow. A lot of them say to me: “maybe three weeks, one month”, something like that.

In fact, most crops take about two to three months, at least. It takes time, but they don't realise it because they always buy the food from the market, but it’s the basic thing of [knowing] how to grow food. You don't have to be good at it, but you probably need to know it. I would consider living farm a place where they can start to gain interest in growing vegetables. I always say it's like a kindergarten to primary school.

Understanding 3 Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farm’s Godfrey Leung
Living Farm/Godfrey Leung

Have you noticed a change in the people’s priorities or attitudes who rent a plot with Living Farm?

Absolutely, because we teach them how to grow [crops]. Most people who come to rent, say 80 to 90%, have never planted or grown anything. We share our knowledge of how to grow different things, when to grow, what type of vegetables [to grow], so they can slowly learn the process.

I think a lot of people come to realise the impact of weather on the crops. We will see those little things. For people living in the city, they’re working in the office, they probably don’t see it as much. For us, when we hear red rainstorm, yellow rainstorm, black rainstorm, we are worried. But for city workers, when they hear yellow rainstorm or typhoon number eight, it’s like, “Oh great! Time to go home”

For people who rent, they will worry and call me, “Can you take a picture of my plot?” “How is my plot?” “Is it damaged?” ”. Once they plant stuff here, because they spent time looking after it and it might cause damage to their plots, they will realise: Oh, bad weather – not good.

Understanding 5 Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farm’s Godfrey Leung
Living Farm/Godfrey Leung

What are some differences that you and other farmers have noticed about the farming conditions in Hong Kong over the years?

It’s getting hotter and hotter every year. Sometime last year, we had a lot of rain. We had a flood happen two times and I would say that a lot of the microorganisms in the soil have died. This year in the wintertime, a lot of the crops are not growing as well as it was a year or two ago. It takes time for the soil to be healthy again.

When we plant something organically, soil is the most important thing for us. We have to look after the soil because the fertiliser that we put into the soil is food for the microorganism which releases the nutrient for the plant. Quite often I will say, organic fertiliser, we feed the soil, not the plant.

Understanding 6 Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farm’s Godfrey Leung
Living Farm/Godfrey Leung

What were some of the major challenges you faced in starting this venture and making farming accessible for Hong Kong people?

We have to keep changing, Hong Kong people like new things. They always need something fresh.

So you always have to try and do something different. We have different workshops. We have some snacks for them to eat, or when they harvest their fresh fruits and vegetables, we can give them a little cooker to cook themselves here.

We don't want to make it like a theme park. Some people call themselves a farm, but they’re actually a theme park. Some charge you an entrance fee, then you feed the goats or feed whatever. We don’t have any of that here, it’s quite simple. But it is a safe environment for people to relax and enjoy.

Understanding 7 Hong Kong Crop Production with Living Farm’s Godfrey Leung
Living Farm/Godfrey Leung

What is a memorable moment or quote that has kept you going throughout this journey of yours?

There are many people who encouraged me and say they really like what I’ve done. Everything here [that] I have started from scratch.I think for them, they’ll be like ‘I wouldn’t be able to do that, because it is a lot of work’. They appreciate what I’ve done and they enjoy coming here, like visiting a friend.

Even when they’re buying things like fertiliser, they just take whatever they want and they’ll tell me how much it is and pay. It's a lot of trust here with us and the members, not like a normal business, it’s more like a community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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