Putting down roots: Urban farming in Causeway Bay

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The newsDesk meets Konnie Yu, Corporate Sustainability Manager at Hysan to dig dirt at their urban organic farm in the heart of Causeway Bay.

“You’re going to an organic farm,” they told me. “Where?” I asked. “In the middle of Causeway Bay,” they said. This must be some kind of joke. Where in one of the busiest commercial districts is there space for farming?

I met Hysan’s Corporate Sustainability Manager, Konnie Yu, in the elegant lift lobby of Hysan Place. My green fingers at the ready. “Will we walk?” I asked her. “No, we’ll take the lift,” she replied. The lift? Where is this farm? “And after the farm, I can show you the artificial wetland as well,” Konnie told me.

Intrigued, I step into the plush elevator. With a gentle whoosh, we speed ten floors to the glass-ceilinged reception area. “Did you know the lifts are double deckers?” asked Konnie. “It means people don’t need to wait so long. And, of course, it’s far more efficient,” she added.

I know that Hysan has a strong vision for sustainability. Talking with Mark Tung, General Manager of Corporate Communications, I learned about Hysan’s long term plans to invest in pedestrian footbridges, and others ways to improve connectivity. I also knew that Hysan Avenue achieved the highest BEAM Plus Platinum certificate for its environmental credentials.

“It’s easy to be a little sceptical when big business talks of corporate social responsibility. I’m a person who needs to see evidence before I form an opinion.”

But it’s easy to be a little sceptical when big business talks of corporate social responsibility. I’m a person who needs to see evidence before I form an opinion. But meeting with Konnie, I realise that Hysan is a company that not only talks the talk but walks the walk when it comes to enhancing the Causeway Bay district.

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We arrive on the 38th floor, walk past the offices and follow a sign pointing to ‘Urban Farm’. A friend once told me that Hong Kong is a vertical city. At street level, it’s hard to know what hidden gems lie on upper floors. But, a farm? Seriously?

Konnie explains how Hysan planned this from the start. They installed the machinery on lower floors. This left the vast, sunny roof for the organic urban farm.

“Participants have grown organic pumpkins and watermelons here,” explains Konnie. “Recently, people have grown a lot of peanuts and cucumbers,” she adds. Members get a plot of land to plant and attend during lunch time sessions. Companies love the programme and want to enrol staff. After a hard hour’s work, residents of Hysan Place can take a shower before heading back to the offices below.

With such peace and quiet, it is impossible to tell we’re in the heart of one of Hong Kong’s busiest neighbourhoods. The aromatic scent of rosemary and other herbs fills the air. Konnie explains that Hysan is considering setting up a regular marketplace where urban farmers can sell their produce to the public.

Not only did Hysan create the farm for tenants, staff and other Lee Gardens members, but they also partnered with local organisation, Sustainable Ecological Ethical Development (SEED). They run workshops on urban farming, low carbon living and other environmental issues. Children attend events to plant and grow produce, learn about environmental problems and discover the green credentials of the building.

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We arrive at the artificial wetland. I’ve seen these kinds of environmental features before. Usually, they are token gestures included as an after-thought by planners: a way of wearing the sustainability badge without any serious commitment. But this is something very different.

“We collect rain water and the grey water from pantries and washrooms and use artificial wetland to filter it. The clean water is disinfected with UV light and then used again. For example, we use it for washing floors,” says Konnie.

The system is capable of cleaning 30 cubic metres per day. That’s enough for all the offices. Hysan even gained the first licence to pump excess water into the harbour. Since this was the first of its kind, the approval process took over a year.

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Konnie points out another key feature of the building. Above the windows, a line of ‘operable vents’ allows fresh air through the spaces meaning that tenants not only save money but reduce their carbon footprint. When the vents are open, the air conditioning is automatically suspended.

I leave Konnie at the ground floor lobby and walk out into the packed streets. As we begin to feel the effect of climate change around the world, the need for everyone to change our behaviour becomes ever more urgent. Buildings like Hysan Place won’t change the world by themselves. But they have a much bigger impact on environmental sustainability than anyone individual could achieve alone. It’s an uplifting thought.

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