Hong Kong’s Last Farmers

You can tell Becky Au Hei-man’s mother has done a lot of hard work; waving us into her farmers market stall her deeply sun-browned face seems young and old at the same time. Rearranging produce as she shows us around around her lean body is all efficiency. Becky (that’s her cracking herself up above) finishes talking to another farmer, welcomes us with her trademark beaming smile, takes us aside and begins to tell the story of how she is saving her village.

Mapopo Community Farm is in Hong Kong’s New Territories an hour by train from Kowloon up near the Chinese border.  Mapopo is one of 100 small farms that make up Ma Shi Po village. Walking down a labyrinth of footpaths to the river’s edge in the midday heat there’s at least one dog sleeping at each farm house door and out in the tiny banana bordered fields people are tending to their greens and cassava or napping in the shade.

Turn away from the river however and looming above Ma Shi Po is a jungle of 35 storey residential tower blocks encroaching from the satellite town of Fanling.  The Hong Kong government wants Fanling to grow.  The thing is Ma Shi Po village is in the way.

Becky says she feels sorry for the kids growing up in the shoe-box apartments like Belair Monte the tower directly across the road from Mapopo. She feels for them, stuck in four walls unable to run around, ride bikes, catch fish and know their neighbours like she did as a child.

Ironically Belair Monte is where most of Becky’s shoppers come from. At her twice weekly farmers market they buy their fresh tomatoes, greens and organic groceries because like many other Hong Kong residents they worry about the fruit and vegetables grown in China’s polluted soils, air and waters (Hong Kong imports over 90% of it’s food from China).

And it’s this desire to connect with their food which is Becky’s most powerful tool.   Mapopo not only sells food it runs farm tours, workshops, concerts and film nights.  “People think of land like it’s a product— that one has to make a big fortune out of it. But we think there are many alternatives. We want people to have a closer relationship with the land and tell people more about where food comes from.”

For decades farms like Becky’s have been bulldozed to make way for more property developments like Belair Monte.  What really hurts Becky is that the government’s latest urban development plan isn’t about housing people (Hong Kong has a housing over-supply and slow population growth) it’s about the economic growth.

The Chinese word Jie (家) meaning home – ties together ideas of both family & land. It’s  become the touchstone for an emerging movement seeking a shift away from Hong Kong’s money first mantra.  Becky says she wants to keep farming this land like her mother and grandmother before her and she is finding more and more allies ready to come down from their high rises to join her sitting down in front of the bulldozers.

 

No FOMO at Joe’s 

Last weekend 25 people came down to Joe’s Market Garden in Coburg to smell the sweet soil, taste the fresh greens and hear the stories old and new of one of inner-Melbourne’s last surviving farms.

But don’t worry if you didn’t make it down.  Joe’s has an open and ongoing invitation to come see the garde n and hear the stories either at the Farmgate stall every Saturday morning (10-2pm through winter) or as a volunteer ( you can even get your workplace to do it’s volunteer day on the farm).  For details email Farmers Em and Monique here

Have a great week

Chris

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