This story was part of Elephant Community Press' 2017 exhibition, "Hong Kong Farm to Table: Stories of Local Food Producers".
The sound of the birds humming in the trees, the heat of the sun, and the smell of the flowers mark the arrival at the farm. The farm has a small entrance, with signs leading into the farm. The entrance is a large metal frame with vegetation hanging on it.
In the centre of the field, a man is planting vegetables. He uses a small shovel to repeatedly dig up the dirt to make sure the fertilizer is thoroughly mixed with the soil. He then digs a small hole and places a seed inside, covers it up and repeats this process over and over. His fingernails are muddy from digging in the dirt, and he is wearing an orange T-shirt, a green vest, and a pair of boots.
There is a scooter next to a tool shed. Tools litter the ground of the shed. In some of the fields, brightly coloured flowers grow: violet, yellow, and anything else that exists in the colour spectrum. Growing tomatoes can be seen in one of the fields; the tomatoes are still green, small in size. They grow with the help of a long stick stuck in the soil, the vines of the tomato plant wrapping around the stick, like an artificial spine. Papayas grow too, and carrots, lettuce, and radishes.
All of this is the work of one man, Wong Ling.
Wong’s farm, which is situated in Yuen Long, is one of the many organic farms in Hong Kong. “I started my farm just because I was interested in farming,” says Wong casually. His farm started out in 2002 with only 30,000 square feet and has now grown to about 50,000 square feet. Wong works on his farm with his three workers, but neither his son nor his wife does so. “Working on the farm is for people who are idiots like me. My son was born normal,” he says jokingly.
Wong says that he plants whatever his customers want in his farm, as this is his “ask first, grow later” concept. Unfortunately, the loss of food is inevitable, but he wants to reduce the amount wasted. According to Wong, about 90% of his broccoli is left unsold and only 40% of his choy sum is sold. “The name of one of my Facebook pages is called Papaya Future, in Chinese, which means an agreement between the customer and me. If you want it, I’ll grow it. It reduces my risk of losing food and money,” he says. “For example, if you want to order turnip cake for next year, then I’ll plant turnips in my farm in October in order to get ready to make the turnip cake.”
Organic vegetables are now being more widely welcomed by consumers, yet people make unreasonable demands for the vegetables, demands that farmers cannot achieve. Wong says that he finds it hard to work with restaurants and customers who want organic food and good-looking food at the same time. “People want organic food, but they don’t want holes in them either. It’s really frustrating. Restaurants just want food with no holes, and companies just want good-looking vegetables, so nowadays we don’t work with companies or restaurants anymore. It is nonsense to request organic vegetables with no holes.” Vegetables with holes mean that less, or not a lot of, pesticide was used in the process of growing those vegetables, but people don’t understand that and think that the farmers were too lazy to take care of the vegetables.
Deciding to buy a farm and plant and sell things was a big decision for Wong as he spent a lot of time and sacrificed a lot, but Wong doesn’t regret his decision. He has learned a lot through these 15 years. He still has this vision of the future of farming, when people can accept organic vegetables with holes, and hopes that one day people can recognise it. “The day that people start accepting these vegetables with holes is the day that people will truly start to understand what it means to eat organic.”