At an industrial building in northwest Hong Kong, funds from selling piles of cardboard have been used to seed an unlikely endeavour on a 9,000 sq ft site on its roof - farming radishes and beans.
Workers at Tuen Mun's YKK Building can choose to grow what they love according to the seasons, and freshly picked harvest are cooked at a staff canteen next door or given to charity.
The aim of the project - which was set up in September 2018 - goes beyond food production. Jones Lang LaSalle, the company which manages the building, launched the farm under expertise from agency Rooftop Republic to bring cheer to an otherwise dreary industrial district and for staff to bond.
Jeff Chan Ka-chu, a senior director at the firm, said it wanted to create a relaxing work environment for tenants and foster exchanges between them and building management staff.
"In the past, when property owners and tenants come to the office, it's mostly about complaints," Chan said. "But through this project, with a softer touch, we can share experiences with our customers, such as on farming."
Through this project, with a softer touch, we can share experiences with our customers, such as on farmingJeff Chan, Jones Lang LaSalle
In the spirit of being environmentally friendly, the money for maintaining the farm comes from paper waste, alongside cans and plastic bottles, sold for recycling for about HK$20,000 to HK$30,000 monthly. The amount of waste each month, collected from tenants, can be up to 10 tonnes.
According to Chan, the farm was set up with more than HK$400,000 saved from over a year of selling waste material. The monthly operating cost now is a sustainable HK$4,000.
Chu Oi-lan, 38, a clerk who has worked at YKK for 19 years, said she loved the leisure activity of farming. Chu and her colleagues visit the rooftop garden during their off hours. She spends about 20 minutes each lunchtime tending to the plants.
"I have been waiting for this for a long time," she said. "We can play and eat. I take watering the plants as an exercise."
Chu said she bonded with colleagues through the project, and friends were also envious about her company's farming perk after seeing her posts on social media.
Hong Kong has more than 60 rooftop farms, involving more than 1,500 people, according to Mathew Pryor, an associate professor and head of the landscape architecture division at the University of Hong Kong.
In his study in 2016, Pryor estimated that there were some 600 hectares of farmable rooftop area across the city - about 32 times the size of Victoria Park.
"The primary benefit of rooftop farming was not food, but social cohesion and social interaction," he said. "It's not adding to the food supply of the city. But they are producing a huge amount of happiness."
Pryor also noted the affordability of rooftop farms, and called on the government to view such projects as bringing social benefits, especially amid the ageing population.
"Older people who have a lot of time on their hands and particularly in the low-income areas (may not have good living conditions). The idea of participating in a social (rooftop project) just for a bit of recreation and interaction … That's a powerful idea."
Officials should give more recognition to rooftops farms by offering legislative and regulatory support, he said, while adding that technical help should be offered to people who want to take part in it.
"We can see the whole thing as a social project, rather than a food production project."
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