Rooftop farming is helping stressed-out, overworked and socially isolated Hong Kongers be happier. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Hong Kong’s skyline farms harvest more happiness than food

  • Mar. 27, 2018 1:08 p.m.

HONG KONG — High above downtown Hong Kong’s bustling, traffic-clogged streets, a group of office workers was toiling away not on a corporate acquisition or a public share offering but on harvesting a bumper crop of lettuce atop one of the skyscrapers studding the city’s skyline.

It’s rooftop farming taken to the extreme, and more about reaping happiness than providing food.

The volunteers were picking butter lettuce, Indian lettuce and Chinese mustard leaf in rows of low black plastic planters on a decommissioned helipad on the 146-meter (480-foot)-high roof of the 38-story Bank of America tower, the scenery: a vertiginous panorama of glass office towers framed by lush mountain peaks and Victoria Harbor.

“It’s pretty dirty but still I really enjoy it,” said Catherine Ng, one of five volunteers who work for the property company managing the tower.

The farm is run by Rooftop Republic, a three-year-old startup whose founders are tapping growing interest in organic food and taking advantage of unused roof space in the cramped, high-rent Chinese city.

Hong Kong, with its skinny office blocks and apartment towers and busy, affluent residents, might seem an unlikely place for rooftop farming to catch on. The finance and trading hub has rural suburbs, but farming only takes up 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of its land and agriculture accounts for 0.1 per cent of its economic output. Rooftop Republic’s founders say the appetite for their services is growing among Hong Kongers who are seeking a more sustainable lifestyle and concerned about where their food comes from.

“We have been getting more and more interest from people who want to grow their own food,” said Michelle Hong, one of the founders. “A lot of it is triggered by concerns about food safety and the realization that a lot of the food they consume might be laden with pesticides. I think people want to have more control and also more trust.”

Hong Kong imports almost all of its food, much of it from mainland China. Public awareness about food safety in the former British colony has risen after countless food contamination scandals on the mainland.

Rooftop Republic has set up on average one farm a month since its founding and now manages 36 covering more than 30,000 square feet (about 2,800 square meters), including one in mainland China, Hong said. It also provides workshops for companies, building owners, schools, and community groups.

The Bank of America farm was a milestone because it was the first in the city’s financial district. The company has since set up two more in the area and is looking at a few more sites, Hong said. Vegetables from the tower are donated to a food bank for uses in lunch boxes distributed to the needy. Some of its other farms are at hotels or restaurants, which use the herbs, eggplants and melons for dishes on their menus.

Plenty of other groups or individuals have started cultivating their own rooftop vegetable gardens, said Matthew Pryor, a Hong Kong University architecture professor who has counted at least 60 and thinks there are a lot more he doesn’t know about.

Pryor’s research found approximately 1,500 rooftop farmers in the city, cultivating a total area of about 1 1/2 hectares. He thinks there’s potential for that to easily grow to 50,000 people working on a suitable rooftop area of 600 hectares.

He helped set up a farm on top of a university building where volunteers, mainly staff, grow tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, dragonfruit, papaya, beans, peas and squash.

Pryor said he discovered through his research that their main product isn’t edible.

“The rooftop farms here produce virtually nothing” compared to Hong Kong’s overall consumption, Pryor said. “What they do produce, however, is happiness, and this social capital that they generate is enormous.”

The farms can help stressed-out, overworked and socially isolated Hong Kongers be happier and improve their well-being by letting them hang out with their friends and commune with nature.

Those benefits were on display at another Rooftop Republic farm at airline Cathay Pacific’s headquarters near the city’s airport on rural Lantau Island.

Airline staff planted crops that thrive in Hong Kong’s cool, dry winter growing season, like kale, cabbage, radishes and carrots, which they can take home.

“We’re right by the sea, we have great views of the harbour, at the same time have got great views of the airport. We see planes every two minutes,” said volunteer Prian Chan. “So it’s awesome to be here.”

Just Posted

Child’s play at Westerner Days

Balloons bring out the child in everyone

‘Do Indians have property rights?’ Former Alberta chief’s land dispute in court

STANDOFF, Alta. — A dispute between two families over land on Canada’s… Continue reading

Missing female found near Sundre

Local rancher finds missing female

Buyers turn to letters to snag homes in Canada’s hot real estate markets

TORONTO — Monica Martins and her husband had been looking for a… Continue reading

WATCH: Gazebo groundbreaking in Waskasoo

Fifty per cent of the $100,000 project is funded by a provincial government grant

Second World War Two-era B-29 Superfortress named ‘Fifi’ lands for first-ever Canadian tour

MONTREAL — A rare Second World War-era bomber named “Fifi” has touched… Continue reading

Magnus Cort Nielsen wins Stage 15 of Tour de France

CARCASSONNE, France — Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark sprinted away from two… Continue reading

Ryan Reynolds teases ‘Deadpool 2’ extended cut at Comic-Con

SAN DIEGO — Ryan Reynolds has made a triumphant return to San… Continue reading

‘Wonder Woman,’ ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Shazam!” thrill Comic-Con

SAN DIEGO — Warner Bros. brought out all the stops Saturday at… Continue reading

All shell, no shock: Lobster prices strong, season picks up

PORTLAND, Maine — New England’s lobster industry faces big new challenges in… Continue reading

Woman killed in collision near Olds

A woman is dead after a collision west of Olds Saturday afternoon.… Continue reading

Evacuation numbers remain at nearly 1,000 as B.C. wildfires rage on

SUMMERLAND, B.C. — Officials in British Columbia’s Okanagan region hope that fire… Continue reading

Survivors recount deadly Missouri duck boat sinking

BRANSON, Mo. — “Grab the baby!” Those were the last words Tia… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month