Explore Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s best kept secrets: how to escape the office and get your hands dirty

Desk jockeys are reconnecting with nature at weekends through activities offered by a local permaculture project, from planting vegetables to building a learning centre out of bamboo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 7:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 1:03pm

It’s not surprising that chained-to-the-desk officer workers often feel the need to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Enter Growing Smart Hong Kong. Formed earlier this year by green thumbs Belgian Marnick Vanelslander and Briton Shahara Alexander, the group – with farms on the outlying islands of Peng Chau and Cheung Chau – is helping Hongkongers reconnect with nature through its sustainable agriculture programmes, workshops and volunteer activities.

“We also want to tackle the disconnect with nature among the city’s youth,” says Alexander, “and we’re doing this through day and overnight environmental camps for schools.”

Companies looking for team-building activities can also sign up for one of its programmes at its Peng Chau farm, where members learn about permaculture, sustainable agriculture that mimics the natural ecosystem.

Volunteers get to work on a variety of projects, from planting vegetables to building a learning centre out of bamboo. Be prepared to sweat: the latter involves chopping down bamboo and carrying it to the farm where it is pierced with a metal rod, split and treated. It’s a satisfying workout for the mind and body, just don’t forget to pack the mosquito repellent and wear clothing to cover your arms and legs.

Other workshops focus on fermentation, foraging and tips on building rooftop gardens, skills that Alexander says are in danger of being lost in highly systemised, urbanised societies.

Growing Smart has even hosted kimchi parties in honour of the celebrations that are held by Korean farmers at the end of cabbage season, and holds regular meetings to talk about sustainable living.

“We want to inspire soul-searching questions – and answers – about the environment, food and its source, energy, pollution, waste and not least, community,” says Alexander.

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