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Hong Kong’s Rooftop Republic

View from rooftop garden. Photos by Melissa Luk.

On a sunny March afternoon I went up with Pol of Rooftop Republic to tour the very high rooftop farm they had set up on the BEA Tower in Kwun Tong, Hong Kong. In this floating oasis we had a chat about how it started and how it’s going.

By Melissa Luk
City Farmer correspondant
April 14, 2018

How did Rooftop Republic begin?

Rooftop Republic was born with the mission to integrate urban farming into our city lifestyle and make it easily accessible to city people. Although we have seen an increase in the number of organic farms in the New Territories (most “rural” part of Hong Kong) over the last years, we realized we needed to bring the urban farming movement to the heart of the city and integrate it with our day to day lives not just something we do once in a while. Whether it’s in the places where we live, where we work, where we go to school or where we socialize, we aspire to put an urban farm on every available roof so that people can reconnect with their own food and their community.

When did this garden start? What was the process like?

We set up this garden in November 2017. We had been planning it for several months. We had to do some minor renovation work for the surface where the planters are now. Before it used to be artificial lawn so we took it out and put new tiles.

After that we set up all the planters, built the irrigation system, did some testing and then put the soil and plants in. This part took around two weeks.

Who initiated the rooftop garden?

For this garden our client is Bank of East Asia. They came to us and said we have a rooftop and we want to set up an urban farm that we’re going to use for our employees to engage them in sustainability issues.

So has this garden been productive in terms of producing food or is it more of a teaching garden?

The gardens we typically set up are not meant for commercial production. We use urban farming to fulfill other objectives, like education. We have a wide range of clients and each client has their own objective and priorities for their garden. Everything from corporate, like this garden, to schools, to communities, individuals, hotels, so it depends on what the client is looking for.

Besides that, you can see it is productive in growing food. There are employees from this company that come on a daily basis to work in the garden and we come every week as well. We do get lots of food from here. To give an example, last week we had a big harvest in one of our rooftop farms in Central at the Bank of America tower…

That’s the really tall one!

Yeah it’s on the 39th floor. But that one is a little bit more exposed because it used to be a heli-pad…

So we did a big harvest last weekend and we harvested 86 kilos of produce that we donated to a local food bank.

That’s awesome. How do you see rooftop gardens continuing in Hong Kong and in other cities? Is it becoming more popular and people are more open to it than before?

Absolutely. We started Rooftop Republic three years ago, but together we’ve been doing urban farming in Hong Kong for 5-6 years. When we started we didn’t know what would happen. Is this going to work? We just jumped on it but we had no clue if it would actually take off.

To our own surprise it’s been incredible, the response we’ve received. People are very receptive for many different reasons… I see it as a trend that’s here to stay. It’s happening all over the world and the beauty of Hong Kong is that it’s so dense. We need to use rooftop spaces because that’s the space still most widely available. And if it can work in Hong Kong then it can work anywhere else. It’s a good example to lead for cities around the world becoming more and more dense as well.

Rooftop Republic website.

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