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The multiple social functions of "Urban Farming"

By Hu Min (Green SOS)

I started to be interested in urban farming in a more hands-on way only early this year when I took part in the programme on organic farming of GreenSOS. We should thank PCD for its long-running work in promoting this approach and for helping university students learn about different ways to connect with nature.

Awakening numb hearts

The urban ecological system created by human beings looks so encompassing. In reality, human beings living in urban areas are cut off from many things, one of which is the land. Even if they live amidst concrete and steel, many people long for the land, green fields and nature. This is a longing which is natural to human beings. I guess urban farming is born from a beautiful vision, rooted in this nature. It might only be a small space on the rooftop, a patch of vegetables, a few pots of herbs on the balcony, or a small vegetable plot on campus, nevertheless the process of taking care of a small garden connects us again with a leaf, a vegetable or a handful of soil. In this process we gain a genuine feeling of being close to the land and to nature. What urban farming can do is awaken numb hearts and enable people to reflect on their relationship with the land and with nature.

Very often urban farming also enables us to reflect: why are rural youths forced to leave their villages to work in cities, and why can urban dwellers rediscover the warmth of the land only through urban farming? Is this a sickness caused by development? Or is it a diversity of life that grows from need?

The contradictions of urban farming

Our seven days of visit and discussions covered many things which were rather different and unorganized. I was either at a loss or thinking with a clear mind, swinging continuously from one end to another—a state that all learners experience. As I tried to sort out what happened in that week, I gained some new thoughts. Not all partners would agree with what I write below, but we need diverse voices.

Just like the city of Hong Kong, the term, "urban farming" is a contradiction in itself. Who are the ones who define "urban farming"? What was the initial intention? What is covered by the term? People must have been growing plants on the balcony before this term came into existence. Many similar kinds of question come up in my mind. I wonder if there is any way we can trace the origin of "urban farming".

Providing diverse values

This is probably not the most important thing. We all agree that urban farming does not tell people to return to the ancient times of slash and burn. In my opinion, urban farming needs to have multiple social functions that are different from conventional farming. Different social groups have different needs. What they gain from urban farming may be different.

  • Through farming, children have fun playing with earth while parents enjoy the happiness of spending time with their children;
  • Through farming, university students reflect on people, nature and modern lifestyles, and search for alternative sustainable lifestyles;
  • New Life Farm is engaged in urban farming because of their concern for disadvantaged social groups;
  • O-Farm provides a leisure lifestyle in which land has a part;
  • Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden makes use of farming to help people help themselves in conserving nature;
  • Aihua, a nominee of Peace Women[1], makes use of urban farming and community kitchens to build solidarity in her community and to build links between people and land through emotional connection;
  • Mapopo Community Farm makes use of farming to defend the people's history and culture;
  • Permaculture, growing on the balcony, horticulture and even "hi-tech" approaches help us "to have better living conditions";
  • Through farming activities in its Tsuen Wan Golden Organic Garden for Elderly, Produce Green Foundation shows its concern for elderly people;

The many possibilities for urban farming: food safety, personal growth, value of food, affective nature education, a life you have a say in…

To some extent, urban farming has come into existence because of its multiple social functions. Similar to the value of diversity advocated by non-profit-oriented organizations, the existence of urban farming provides options. We may endorse one or more of its values and have doubts about others (respect for others is an attitude we should all have). It does not prevent us from using farming to do what we think should be done, because "urban farming" itself is not our ultimate goal.

What we can do at this point is invite people to join in to think about "urban farming".

Photo sharing:
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Compost making machine is commonly used in urban farming.
Mapopo Community Farm makes use of farming to defend the people's history and culture.
Through farming activities in its Tsuen Wan Golden Organic Garden for the Elderly , Produce Green Foundation shows its concern for elderly people.
O-Farm provides a leisure lifestyle in which land has a part.



  1. Wang Aihua is one of the women participating in the Peace Woman Action Research conducted from 2008-2010.