China’s food scandals in recent years read less like the standard “salmonella poisoning” and more like a carnival side-show of astounding proportions. These have included fake eggs, molded from resin and paraffin wax; the sale of “gutter oil”− used cooking oil from restaurants that’s literally scooped out of sewers and sold as new; cabbage sprayed with formaldehyde; mercury-laden baby formula; kebabs made from cat meat; and chlorine in soft drinks. It sounds like the culinary equivalent of Thunderdome: One hungry person enters, possibly no one leaves.
No wonder there’s a new movement in the country that circumvents the pitfalls of store-bought food and relies instead on self-grown organic produce. Sustainable organic farming is quickly gaining steam as a way for the country's urban inhabitants to ensure their food's safety. And because space is at a premium in China’s densely populated urban centers, the practice is making a home of city rooftops.
The Perennial Plate recently visited two of China’s sustainable organic rooftop farms—Osbert Lam’s City Farm in Hong Kong and Guichun Zhang’s own farm in Beijing. According to the Zhang, there are 90 million meters of free rooftop space in Beijing, which could serve as farmland for local residents.
And just like in the U.S., when residents come together to plant, as they do at City Farm, a communal experience is created, where people’s skills can improve quickly by sharing tips, and groups of neighbors work towards one common goal.
According to The New York Times, the popularity of organic food can be seen in Hong Kong’s now 100 certified organic farms. Prior to seven years ago, there were none. For a city that’s among the most densely populated on the planet, one that imports over 90 percent of its food, the turning tide of sustainable farming speaks to residents’ dedication to more meaningful ways of eating.
As the practice grows, Chinese cities in particular could also benefit from rooftop farms’ environmental advantages. Michael Leung is a founding member of the Hong Kong agricultural collective known as HK Farms. Recently interviewed by BBC News, Leung says that plants not only help alleviate poor air quality, but the buildings underneath also benefit from less heating and air conditioning when they’re crowned with a garden.
The more pronounced global interest becomes in organic farming, the greater chance we have to eradicate our old food systems and adopt ones that are kinder to the environment and more respectful to our health.
Do you do your own urban homesteading? Let us know about your personal farming experience in the Comments.