This story was part of Elephant Community Press' 2017 exhibition, "Hong Kong Farm to Table: Stories of Local Food Producers".
The air is filled with the noise of chatter, tinted with the fresh aroma of vegetables. The Garlic Farm stall is located at the corner of the farmers’ market in Central, separate from the other closely packed stalls. Mr Fu is rummaging through baskets of vegetables, arranged in an almost haphazard manner. He is quiet and often responds to people with a half smile, while his partner, May, gives a bubbly greeting whenever a customer approaches and launches into heated conversations about seasonal vegetables, recipes and everything related to her business.
Contrasting to the noisy market in Central, a visit to the farm located in the west of the New Territories is marked by the fresh smell of vegetation and soil. Next to the entrance is a small plot of beetroot, claimed to be the best harvest in the farm’s history. Tin wires loosely surround the area, while a hollow bee box stands under the shade of a tree. The narrow, rocky path is almost invisible in the soil, wriggling its way through the uneven landscape.
Fu Wai Cheung and Wong So Mei (May) founded the organic vegetable farm, Garlic Farm, in Ha Che village in Yuen Long in 2010. Over the years, the business partners have strived to produce organic food for their customers, all of whom have become their friends. “They are friends that we cherish and would like to take care of,” May said. “We even have a WhatsApp group with them where we can share different information. It's a truly enriching process when we learn from each other.”
One of the farm’s customers, Jenny Poon, has a small basket bursting with tomatoes, watercress, beetroot, chayote and vegetables of different varieties, which the two farmers especially ‘reserved’ for their friend. “After they learned that I have health issues, they began to specifically grow crops that are suitable for my health conditions.” Poon has built a strong relationship with the partners as she visits them every Sunday at the farmers’ market. “They always keep the best ones for me before I come,” Poon said with a smile.
Fu spent his childhood on a conventional farm owned by his family where he built his foundation of farming techniques. It is not hard to tell that he has spent most of his life working under the sun from the deep bronze shade of his skin. After May tried his crops and initiated to collaborate with him, he turned his attention to organic farming. May said, “As we have learned that a lot of people actually need organic food due to health issues, I have become more determined to do organic farming.” With Fu’s first-hand experience of farming from his childhood, the partners have managed to maintain the Garlic Farm for more than six years.
As the Chinese old saying goes, “You always depend upon the sky in life” with “sky” often inferred as fate, but the farmers interpret it as “climate”. In the past few years, the two farmers have experienced countless challenges and failures from weather. May said, “About one to two years ago, a flood from a typhoon 9 damaged almost all of our vegetables. Even the scaffolding for the bitter gourd, which was ready to harvest, collapsed. It was disastrous.” Weather also creates a limit to the production of organic farming as natural disasters or unsatisfactory weather conditions often lead to almost 80% loss of harvest.
On the other hand, the establishment of the farm has also brought them benefits. “We are always learning in the process: farming skills, ways to cook vegetables, pest control... these are small crucial steps,” May said. May’s son has been helping out at the farm every weekend and has provided the farm with a lot of technical help, including setting up the electrical fence to prevent wild boars. “His experience will help him in his future career, and he as a person has also improved a lot in terms of personality. I am glad to see that,” May added.
Motivated by their customers and family, Fu and May are determined to maintain their business. “We really do not have many future plans. As long as we still have the passion and ability, the Garlic Farm will last.”