"My favourite plants to grow are quick harvesting vegetables like cherry radishes. I was successful in harvesting cherry radishes - every step from the beginning was good!" - Sydney*
Sydney is an asylum seeker from South Asia who has been in Hong Kong for 16 years, and she has been an avid gardener growing her own food in this city in the past 2 years.
"My father was involved in the rice business in his home country, and I used to help him," says Sydney. "After I came to Hong Kong, I joined the Rooftop Republic Academy because I wanted to learn and keep improving my gardening skills."
In the late summer of 2019, Sydney and another asylum seeker who are both participants of a local NGO, RUN, enrolled in the Rooftop Republic Academy to learn about growing fruits and vegetables in the city. RUN supports vulnerable refugees to rebuild their mental and physical strength, unite across differences as a community, and nurture self-reliance for a more hopeful future.
RUN participants tending to the garden at theDesk
Although Sydney had helped her father grow rice and vegetables such as beans, eggplants, and okra back in her home country, she was eager to have the opportunity to grow her own vegetables in an urban environment like Hong Kong. Through the Academy, she visited both rooftop farms and organic farms in Hong Kong. "The most memorable day was when they took us to Hok Tau and taught us to dig in the soil with the real tools. It reminded me so much of being back in my home country. I learned how to grow many different types of crops from beginning to end."
Pak Choi and Cassava grown at Sydney’s home garden
For refugees who have experienced extreme trauma in their home countries and continue to face barriers to accessing basic support and services they need in Hong Kong, being outdoors and gardening can be incredibly therapeutic and build self-confidence.
In addition, food is an integral part of the RUN community - they have even published a cookbook featuring recipes from the refugee participants, and Sydney was drawn to the idea of being able to grow fresh produce to share at RUN's weekly lunches together. "The most joyful part of growing my own veggies is harvesting!" says Sydney. "We shared our vegetables with others from RUN and we were so happy when they cooked them at lunch."
Panipuri, an Indian snack and a favourite dish at the RUN office, made with potatoes and chilis grown by RUN participants!
Sydney continues her urban farming journey by regularly tending to her home garden as well as a small garden for RUN (space and equipment generously donated by The Repulse Bay).
Cassava plants growing at the RUN garden at The Repulse Bay
Sydney advises new gardeners to be both patient and attentive. "You need to take care of your plants regularly. Water is not enough to grow plants, they need nutrients, too. It's the same as for humans."
It's so true that food connects with us all very deeply at both a cultural and emotional level - thank you Sydney for sharing this heartwarming story with us!
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.