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Down on the farm with DB’s green-fingered residents

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Growing your own is gloriously satisfying hard work. Sam Agars talks to a group of green-thumbed DB residents who are putting their backs (and hearts) into crop cultivation.

In the hustle and bustle that is Hong Kong, Discovery Bay is seen as a sanctuary where people can escape the hectic city life and unwind. While many feel DB is not what it once was – especially on weekends when tourists descend in their droves – there are still initiatives running to ensure the area retains its bucolic feel. One of these is the DB Family Farm in Central Park (Siena Park), which operates as part of the Love.Together@DB programme and gives residents the chance to experiment with what is now a world-wide craze – growing your own food.

With 44 plots in total and three planting schedules a year, many DBers are embracing the opportunity  to get outdoors and do something that is not readily available in Hong Kong. A host of residents are using the DB Family Farm to maintain a work-life balance through planting, harvesting and eventually consuming their own produce.

Fun in the sun

Started by Hong Kong Resorts (HKR) and in operation since October 2014, DB Family Farm is into its seventh four-month planting period, with the most recent beginning on May 4. “DB is a green city and we value a green lifestyle highly, so we want to have a place that can provide residents with the chance to enjoy the experience of gardening,” HKR spokesperson Beatrice Wong says.

“The residents can be very busy in their family life, so we wanted to allow them to escape the hectic city life,” Beatrice adds. “It is a healthy activity for the residents and a new experience for a lot of them.”

The initiative has been well received by local Hongkongers and expats alike, with around 500 applications for the sixth planting period that ran between January and April of this year, and waitlisted residents helping fill the seventh. Due to their popularity, the 1 metre by 3 metre plots are allocated via a ballot. They come free of cost, although there is an option to pay a gardener to water your plot.

Plot owners keep all of their own  produce, with common summer plants including cucumber, watermelon and peppers, while the likes of potatoes, carrots, broccoli and beans grow well in winter. The four months allocated ensures everyone is able to enjoy the fruits of their labours. Freshly planted kale, celery, lettuce and aubergine are ready to harvest after just 60 days, crops like peppers and lady’s fingers take a little longer, up to 90 days.

Fun, fulfilling and a good way to reduce the weekly supermarket spend, growing your own is also, of course, all about organic cultivation, with gardeners able to control and limit the type of fertilisers and pesticides they use. DB plot owners are given planting tips at introductory workshops, while there are further workshops available such as jam making, farm decoration and extracting natural dye from plants. “The workshops keep the residents engaged by allowing them to learn  something,” Beatrice says. “We teach them how they can use their crops to cook, and we run planting workshops to enhance their planting skills.”

There is even a competition for the gardeners, encouraging them to take good care of their plots and share photos of their efforts on Facebook. The owners of the top five best-kept plots earn the right to retain their plot for the next planting season, with the competition initially introduced after some residents neglected their plots. “The plots are in very good condition now and the owners are very happy to share their photos on social media,” Beatrice says. “We get a lot of good feedback from the owners.”

Reaping the benefits

While the flow of fresh produce is one of the obvious benefits for users of the DB Family Farm, for many the pros go much deeper than that. Raymond and Karen Choy, and fellow plot owner Jing Tu find the hard physical labour involved extremely satisfying, and a fine way to keep active and healthy.

“I like running and hiking, so now I combine the two. I jog to the plot in the morning and have a look at my farm,” Jing says. “Whenever I have time, I run down to the plot. It keeps me exercising and I like cooking, so I grow a lot of herbs, like rosemary, mint, oregano and basil.”

Heidi Lam’s plot provides her with the chance to bond with her daughters, Ngai Ning and Yue Ying, while pursuing one of her passions. “When my kids were very young I farmed in Peng Chau but when they got a bit older it became difficult to go so far, so there was no chance for me to do any farming,” Heidi says. “DB Family Farm allows me to do some organic farming nearby.

“I like to lead a healthy lifestyle and that is why I farm because I can plant healthy and organic food, which is  quite expensive in DB and not easily available,” Heidi adds. “Of course, we can only plant a few things but still it is a very good experience for my daughters.” Heidi’s eldest is a particularly keen gardener, helping her mum prepare the soil and pick the vegetables.

For Ting Lloyd, applying for a plot was as much about her helper Jenifer Borja Buya, as it was her  family. “Jenifer is quite new with us and I noticed she loves planting things. She was trying to plant lots of different things on our balcony but our balcony is small and we don’t get much sunlight,” Ting says. “When I heard about the farm, I thought it would be great for her to have a proper plot.”

Ting is also seeing her twin daughters, Chloe and Amelia, benefiting from Jenifer’s tutelage. “It’s something organic for the kids to do outdoors,” Ting says. “I don’t know anything about gardening but my helper is very knowledgeable. She teaches the kids how to plant the seeds and how to fertilise and water them. It’s a great little project for the kids to get involved in.”

First-time gardener Benjamin  Parsons is also enjoying extending his knowledge base, having romanticised for years about working his own plot. “My wife and I both have green thumbs and we just enjoy the spirit of cultivating,” he says. “We have a lot of house plants but those are in a controlled environment, so it has been a good opportunity to deal with some other elements such as extreme sun. It’s been a valuable learning experience.”

Heidi Lam’s roselle jam recipe

Cut a circle at the base of the roselle and take out the seeds. Wash and brush the insides of the fruit with a soft toothbrush to remove any ants and bugs. Put the seeds in a pot and cover with water. Boil for 2 minutes to bring out the pectin, then throw away the seeds. Put the fruit in the pectin-infused water, cook until soft. Add organic brown sugar, about one part fruit, two parts sugar. Adjust to taste. Cook for around 10 minutes on a low heat, or until the jam reaches the desired thickness. Stir from time to time, and avoid overcooking as the jam will become too thick. Pour into a sterilised glass jar, then leave to cool before covering.


Images: Baljit Gidwani – evoqueportraits.com

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