8shades Rooftop Republic Michelle Hong

8Shades Of… Michelle Hong, co-founder of Rooftop Republic

Hong Kong might have the reputation of being a concrete jungle – but homegrown social enterprise Rooftop Republic is doing their bit to make it greener, one rooftop at a time! Rooftop Republic have been working tirelessly to build and manage urban farms around the city since 2015, growing organic produce and educating communities about sustainable living.

For our latest edition of ‘8Shades Of’, we spoke to Michelle Hong, the green-fingered co-founder of Rooftop Republic, about the benefits of urban farms in Hong Kong, tips for novice gardeners and why we should all know where our food comes from.

Michelle Hong (Photo: Matthieu Millet/Rooftop Republic)

1. In one sentence, tell us what you do?

I’m the co-founder of Rooftop Republic; together with my team, we build and manage urban farms in Hong Kong, and through urban farming workshops and programmes, we educate city-dwellers on the importance of being connected with our food, knowing where it comes from and to take action towards more sustainable food consumption habits.

2. Why are you an 8Shader?

Living in the dense environment of Hong Kong made me crave nature much more. Through exploring the New Territories, I got to know many local organic farmers and discover Hong Kong’s lovely and productive farms. This experience sparked my interest in learning more about the food we consume daily – and I discovered some quite sobering facts.

The truth is that many developed cities such as Hong Kong are heavily dependent on imported vegetables and food – Hong Kong imports more than 98 percent of its daily vegetable supply. The lack of knowledge of where food comes from, who grows it and the carbon footprint of producing these vegetables has a greater impact on the health of both our planet and our bodies than we realise. 

See also: 10 Fruits and Veggies with the Longest Shelf Life

Photo: Katherine Cheng/Rooftop Republic

I believe that the first step towards changing people’s minds about what and how we consume is to be part of the process; to value the provenance of food is to start growing food with our very own hands.

The idea of organic farms against the bustling financial centre that is Hong Kong may seem incongruent at first, but as we found out, there are so many opportunities waiting if we look into underutilised spaces like rooftops and buildings – and these are the perfect starting points for city-dwellers like you and me to start getting our hands dirty!

3. What’s your best eco habit – and your guilty not-so-green one?

Growing my own herbs and veggies is my favourite go-to activity. I try to maximise a small balcony with both ornamental and edible plants; for the latter, I’m now growing arugula, rosemary, basil and turmeric.

My not-so-green one is travelling to visit family who are based outside Hong Kong. Coupled with the quarantine requirements that come with Covid-19 travel these days, such as plastic lunchbox deliveries and hotel quarantines, you can rack up a huge environmental footprint. 

See also: How to… grow your own herb garden

Source: Rooftop Republic

4. Fave eco brands?

I enjoy visiting Slowood’s bulk food section for nuts, noodles and chocolates; I really like their sweet potato noodles! They also carry several indie brands such as The Herb Farm’s natural skincare products, which work well for my sensitive skin.

Another brand I support is Redress for second-hand clothes. I think Christina Dean and her team have done a wonderful job in raising awareness around the negative impact of fast fashion, the environmental impact of the clothes we wear, and changing perceptions about wearing second-hand clothes.

See also: 8Shades Of… Christina Dean of Redress

5. Fave veggie dishes in Hong Kong?

I love Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, and it’s easy to find good, flavourful veggie dishes from those cuisines. If I’m in town, I really like Bedu, Francis and the vegetarian buffet at Colette’s at the Fringe Club. Otherwise, my go-to comfort food is the okra curry from Aama’s Kitchen, a Nepalese diner in Ma Wan.

Photo: Natalie Lam/Rooftop Republic

See also: 8Shades Of… Laura Offe, co-founder of Meraki Hospitality

6. Why are urban farms beneficial to Hong Kong?

Building more urban and rooftop farms not only helps to “green up” an otherwise bleak concrete landscape, but it also means that the city’s population can access freshly harvested, locally grown produce in places where they work, live, study or play. The proximity of a rooftop farm to say, someone’s office means that growing their own food can truly be part of their daily lives, and they’ll be able to harvest and enjoy fresh produce with minimum nutrition loss, while reducing food miles.

Farming is also an extremely community-based activity, as it encourages people to collaborate on tending to their allotments and sharing their produce with one another and those in need. Being able to escape to nature to relax and recharge during a stressful workday hugely improves one’s wellbeing too!

Source: Rooftop Republic

7. Many Hong Kongers might think they don’t have enough time or space to grow their own plants; what advice can you offer novice gardeners to get started?

I’d recommend starting with vegetables that you love eating so you’ll be more motivated to keep at it! 

If you’re just starting out with your edible garden or are tight on time and space, I’d suggest beginning with plants that require lower maintenance such as leafy greens. Lettuce and spinach grow well in the cooler months, while sweet potato leaves, amaranth and water spinach thrive during the warm summer season. Herbs like basil and mint like warmer conditions, though they grow pretty well all year round in Hong Kong. 

8. What shade of green are you and why? 

The Rooftop Republic green – which is a shade very close to turquoise! It’s fresh, bright, vibrant and is exactly the type of energy we have in both our team and our work.

Find out more at Rooftop Republic’s website and Instagram

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