CHAN Chak Long
Laws / Year 1
Each time we are having a meal, have we ever thought of where the food in front of us came from? Participating in this workshop, we have tried to grow edible vegetables at home. Throughout these days, witnessing the plant growth has been inspiring and satisfying. The following are some thoughts to share.
Starting from day 1 of this project, it is already a fresh experience. Planting might seem a simple task, but there are lots of details affecting the growth of a plant. For instance, one of the steps is to mix the soil. Being crucial to plant growth, soil provides anchorage and nutrients to the plant. Mixing grains of different sizes ensures the soil could hold sufficient water without drowning the roots. Although it is not visible under the soil, essential life processes are happening before we even notice. We also have to consider other conditions, such as measuring the light intensity of sunlight and making fertilizer to enrich nutrients in the soil, which are no easy tasks. For example, the composting process was quite a hiccup since the process was going slower than expected. Nevertheless, unexpected incidents are often common in nature. These preparation procedures could already show the attention that is required to provide a suitable environment for the plant to grow, not mentioning the continuous hard work afterwards until the day of harvest. It is indeed an impressive work to cultivate crops and we should appreciate the efforts which bring food to our table.
Another fascinating part of this workshop is to track the growth of the plant. We have been given some lettuce and choy sum seeds, which require great care as they were so small in size. Frankly speaking, we do not often see vegetables in their premature stage. When the seeds germinated and form a shoot, it looks likes the seedlings of many other dicotyledonous plants, instead of the choy sum we usually see. As it continues to grow, its characteristics are gradually shown. Have we ever wondered, how could the similarly looking young plants grow into to distinctly different flowers or even trees? One of our classics may give us an answer. The key lies in the tiny seed we put into the soil. As James Watson has said, “Life is just a matter of physics and chemistry”. (139) What makes choy sum a choy sum is determined by the complex DNA passed from generations of parent plants and stored in the seed. When the plant matures, it will again produce its own seeds and pass the traits of a choy sum to future generations. This once again shows how delicate and marvellous our nature has evolved.
Approaching a later stage of the activity, the thicker and taller the crops grow, the more competition for sunlight occurs within the small area inside the pot. Despite tangling with one another, the plants grew quite well and developed large leaves to support themselves. We know that the setting in our home would be quite different from normal farmland, being more crowded and less illumination indoor. Seeing how the plants strive to survive in such a harsh environment is actually encouraging. Such toughness and adaptation to difficulties by the plants are exactly some positive attitudes that we could learn from. This is especially true in this pandemic where our daily life has been disrupted. Through taking care of the plant, bonding has been formed with the plant and it delivers positivity when being stuck at home could be depressing.
After all the efforts put into our crop, it will eventually be harvested and eaten. Yet how would you feel if the farmer is the one starving? It triggers reflection when discussing the relationship between the agriculture sector and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Uneven food distribution and exploitation of labour pose hurdles to achieve equality and eliminate poverty. Growing monoculture crops with large amounts of chemical fertilizers, serious impacts are brought to both “life on land” (SDG15) and “life below water” (SDG14), like leaching of soil and eutrophication. Excessive human alterations would bring harm to the ecological balance. Just as Rachel Carson has expressed in her Silent Spring, we should be thoughtful and aware of the possible consequences that our actions bring. (141) As responsible consumers, we can relieve these problems by buying food of fair trade or organic crops and avoid wastage of uneaten food. Most importantly, we should try and understand the various sustainability problems around the world, not limited to agriculture. Many a little makes a mickle. Small efforts by individual could also make big changes!
All in all, it has been a fruitful experiment participating in this workshop and planting choy sum at home. Let’s hope that the choy sum will continue to grow well and healthy!
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. 1962, In Dialogue with Nature: Textbook for General Education Foundation Programme, edited by Chi Wang Chan, Wai Man Szeto, and Wing Hung Wong, revised 2nd edition, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2016, p. 141.
Watson, James D. and with Andrew Berry. DNA: The Secret of Life. 2003, In Dialogue with Nature: Textbook for General Education Foundation Programme, edited by Chi Wang Chan, Wai Man Szeto, and Wing Hung Wong, revised 2nd edition, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2016, p. 139.
CHOI Hoi Yi
Biomedical Sciences / Year 2
As a person living in this fast-paced modern world, rushing around with the daily grind of life has become my habit. With little time to slow down, pay attention to small things and immerse in thoughts, I have neglected many elements in life, including nature. Frankly speaking, the only knowledge I had about agriculture were those learnt in geography classes back in secondary, and ever since, I hardly paid attention to this sector. Recently, I have seen news reports about the shortage of vegetables in local markets, while prices of imported vegetables surged mainly due to the pandemic. Since I joined the activity and learnt some of the concepts, I became more eager to dig into such an issue. As I dug deeper into agricultural issues at a local level, I realized there are lots of existing problems.
Farmlands and agricultural methods are some of the aspects that account for the problems faced by the agricultural sector nowadays. Without the use of good farming practices like crop rotation, integration of livestock and crops, conscious designs for farmlands that support sustainable development and permaculture, local farmers face a lot of problems such as higher costs for growing crops, infertile soil due to planting the same crops in a certain area, and so on. To meet market demands, there may also be an overuse of pesticides, which are contaminants that contribute to the transformation of farmlands into brownfield lands. From these, it is obvious how important it is to demonstrate permaculture in farmlands, such as designing different uses of zones from zone 0 to zone 5 based on environmental and operational factors, so as to ensure high productivity and effectiveness with minimal resources used.
In this era of consumerism, not only do the price and quality of products matter, but also the values and ideas the products represent, and the latter is becoming more and more prominent. As our knowledge and awareness towards the environment enhance, more of us pay attention to our dietary habits. Advocates have encouraged meatless meals and going green, which means turning to consume vegetables rather than meat, as it is claimed that this could help the environment. When this idea was instilled in my mind, I did not drill down, so I just believed in what was said completely. It was until the question ‘Is consuming vegetables an environmentally-friendly habit?’ was raised that I sunk in thought. Undeniably, quite a percentage of the global carbon footprint comes from the production of meat and livestock farming. But I come to realise that although this is true, it does not make consuming vegetables environmentally friendly either. Looking into farming practices and the requirements for growing crops, lots of resources like water, soil nutrients and energy are needed. The consumption of resources and the generation of resources certainly have impacts on the environment, and thus, I do have reservations about the answer to this question, as it may not be as simple as what I had once thought.
After the activity, I hope to make some changes in my daily life as the ideas introduced allowed me to gain insights. “Problem is the solution.” This is the attitudinal principle in permaculture. In permaculture, there is no such thing as waste, since ‘waste’ can be utilized once in the right condition. I used to throw away many ‘wastes’ after they have been used, but have never thought of utilizing them in another way. Used tea leaves, coffee grounds, outdated newspapers, they all seem useless after being ‘used’. However, I just realized how useful they can be when they are used to make the compost for planting my Choy Sum. Many things in daily life can be used in other ways, and I shall not be blinded by my own perception towards the uses of things, like what Zhuangzi has said. And after all, we are unable to define what is useful or not, as everything can exist in other forms. They can be useful in one context, and gradually be regarded as ‘useless’, but it can become useful in another context. The identification is simply due to the fact that we are all blinded by our own horizons, and is actually meaningless, so it is better to embrace everything without differentiation and discrimination.
Five of my Choy Sum grew successfully, but their sizes are still very small. Maybe due to what was said in some of the sessions about ‘having to take care of the plants just like taking care of children’, taking care of them made me feel like a parent. I planted them in the balcony and watered them every day since there was direct sunlight which made the soil dry up quickly. It was interesting to realise that the first few things that came to my mind when there was a typhoon or strong wind were the plants, thinking if they were safe or not and quickly moving them back into the house. Through planting with my own hands, I do understand the feelings of farmers, putting in so much effort and care to plant for so many crops, with an addition of pressure and stress, worrying about the harvest and whether the weather would destroy the plants. Thus, I would be a responsible consumer from now on, try to notice small details in life and think deeper about them, especially when I have meals. Instead of gobbling down my meal in no time, I could spare some more time and eat slowly, appreciating everything contained in the meal, which is everything in the universe.
FANG Bao Ying
Journalism and Communication / Year 1
The time after dinner these days was spent nurturing the growth of a plant, it was quite enjoyable. It gave me an opportunity to break free from the clutches of the technological world.
Spend just a minute on the train, you will find yourself surrounded by phubber. Nowadays, the development of technology has been reaching further – into the way it has become an indispensable part of our lives. Nevertheless, it is understandable that citizens of metropolitan cities like Hong Kong are not aware of the importance of preserving the natural environment as barely do they have an opportunity to get back to nature from their modern technological lives.
However, the home-planting activity granted me a golden chance of getting closer to nature. I put the two pots on the windowsill in my kitchen. Every time when I washed the dishes, I excitedly looked at them to find the signs of the lettuce sprouting from the seeds. As I continued watering them every day, it developed from just a tiny seed to become a spear and eventually grew up. This process drew me closer to nature as I felt pleased of giving a life to the nature. At the same time, I have a deeper understanding of why Thich Nhat Hanh is saying that everything on earth is interdependent with one another. Sunlight, water, fertilizer, soil, my personal effort and all the things on earth are the essential elements for the growth of the plant. When around the leaves are something withered and yellow, it does not necessarily mean that I am the ‘plant killer’, so I look forward to joining more planting activity!
新聞與傳播學 / 一年級
心理學 / 一年級
中國語言及文學 / 二年級
社會科學院 / 一年級
護理學 / 一年級
WU Hoi Lam
Biomedical Sciences / Year 1
This Home-planting workshop was not as easy and simple as I expected, but complicated, deep and inspirational. Although we could not have planting sessions face-to-face at school, home-planting in turn allowed me to witness and notice every change of my Chinese cabbage as it grows, exposing me to more thinking and reflection.
The first reflection was simple yet important – appreciation. This experience taught me to appreciate the hard work of farmers, appreciate the food we can easily get access to and be grateful to what we own. Most of us have difficulties during planting, not to mention we are only planting six of them. It is hard to imagine how much workload a farmer has every day, dealing with acres of farmland. Every dish of vegetables or food we have every night may add up to a few months of time and uncountable care and effort from farmers. The concept of being grateful was always in our minds, but we may not truly understand the reasons behind. I had a chance to experience agriculture fully hands-on, from mixing the best soil, thinning out the young seedlings, I learnt much more knowledge related to planting and a large number of variables such as light intensity, soil quality, ventilation, water supply needed to be considered. The soil has to be mixed with vermiculite and minerals for better water absorption, the light intensity indoor and outdoor could have a difference of million times, the process of producing fertilizers requires the reaction of bacteria and release a stinky odour. It reminded me of the stereotype where people often consider farmers as having less knowledge and lower education level. Parents might have mentioned that “You should study hard, or else you are going to become a farmer!” However, after the home-planting session, I disagree and I believe farmers must have excellent knowledge related to agriculture. I believe agriculture was no easy job and required numerous knowledge. An example was Permaculture, where Zoning of agricultural land assisted in efficient energy planning. Such a system was compact and well-thought, implying various knowledge was applied. My appreciation and gratefulness towards the hard work of farmers and food I could enjoy were augmented after this precious experience.
The introduction of permaculture in this programme had inspired me to reflect on the current human lifestyle. As science and technology prosper, human beings are depriving the natural environment – excessive exploitation of resources like trees causing deforestation, underground petroleum and emission of harmful chemicals like greenhouse gases leading to Global Warming. Nature was actually the base of our daily lives, providing food, water, shelter and resources. It was ironic that our lifestyle was destroying her. Not only nature but our lifestyle also deprives the resources and rights of our future generations. This was one of the reasons why sustainable development was promoted. Many scientists and environmentalists have predicted an accelerating rate of our Earth deteriorating in the future decades, meaning that such environmental problems were indeed closely related to us and the next generation. I was shocked by the statistics, where we humans only took a few decades, counting from human civilization or industrialization, to destroy the Earth who produced the resources using four billion years. The sea level in 2020 has risen 73.27 mm compared to the 1993-2008 average, where some ocean basins might have a sea level rise of 6-8 inches. (Lindsey) Why does sea level matter? Around 10% of the world’s population, indicating more than 600 million people lived in coastal areas with less than 10 meters above sea level; 40% of the world population meaning nearly 2.4 billion people live within 100 km to sea level. (United Nations) With our selfish actions only considering our instant convenience and pleasure, the consequences of our actions were already predicted to retribute on us. Sadly, I observed that the majority of the population had not yet realised how close the problem was. Although public education and promotion have been carried out in a large-scale, public awareness has only remained on the acknowledgment level. Many people know about the environmental problems we are facing, but how many of us really took action? From this home-planting experience, I will try to alter daily habits to become more environmentally-friendly. Small changes like not using straws, recycling may be insignificant but definitely lead to a noticeable effect if I continue and proceed with them every day.
Not only does the rise in sea level affect people living in coastal areas, but also the whole world. A significant drop in available land will result in people having no shelter and reduced agricultural land. Not being exaggerating, however, decrease in farmland together with the exponentially rising world population, food shortage may occur; further accelerating the problem into inadequate resources, regional conflicts and competition. As I mentioned, Earth was the basis for life to occur and I admit we could never override nature. To alleviate these problems, the United Nation proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. From the 17 goals, they indirectly reflect how important agriculture was related to our world – excess use of pesticides affecting the ecosystem, food safety affecting our health, environmental pollution and ecological impact, monopolization leading to poverty of farmers. It could be proved that agriculture was potent and pivotal to humans as it sustained our lives, but also towards the world.
Nevertheless, in this day and age where society has transformed into a knowledge-based one, farming was regarded as a low-ended job. I found it ironic that those agricultural-based countries producing food were the least-developed and underprivileged regions, and residents are those who are starving. The reasons undoubtedly include the transformation into a knowledge-based and market-oriented economy, and most importantly the denudation and unequal treatment towards farmers. This will also be a reason why organizations like Fair Trade were established, to protect the rights and interests of farmers and producers in less developed countries. Consuming Fair Trade products or agricultural products from those underprivileged regions may be a way for us to contribute our humble effort towards the issue.
In conclusion, I absolutely learnt and reflected a lot through this activity. On a personal aspect, I was reminded to appreciate and be grateful and will take action to contribute to environmental protection starting from daily life habits. From a wider perspective, my view towards agriculture and farming has been revised. I now hold so much respect towards farmers and understand the pivotal role agriculture plays to human and the whole ecosphere we are living in. My actions may not bring about an enormous change, but it was also to shoulder the responsibility as a world citizen living on Earth. And most importantly, I reflected on the relationship between human beings and the Earth and I believe that coexisting in harmony, just as the natural system was, in a perfect balance.
Lindsey, Rebecca. “Climate Change: Global Sea Level | NOAA Climate.Gov.” Climate Change: Global Sea Level, 14 Aug. 2020, www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level.
United Nations. “Factsheet: People and Oceans.” The Ocean Conference [New York], 5 July 2017, www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Ocean-fact-sheet-package.pdf.
YIP Long Ching
Global Communication / Year 1
It may seem ludicrous, but a university student, in the past 2 months, has failed to produce a 5 dollar-equivalent product—a batch of choi sum.
As invited by my UGFN teacher, I participated in the Home-planting Experiential-learning Activity which started in early October. My first thought is “how hard would that be? A sprinkle of seeds on the soil and watering will do.” However, I am sadly mistaken by such naïve thought, and have learnt many intricacies of agriculture.
During the course, I have been taught the principles of sustainable agriculture, permaculture and food security problems. Although these may seem too far from our daily lives, the teeny-tiny choi sum demonstrated how difficult it is to perform farming smoothly and without errors, let alone the massive food production and agriculture that is ongoing and bearing the responsibility of feeding the whole world’s population.
The experience reminded me of Carson’s text on how precious and delicate our environment is—precious that it feeds us and sustains the complex food web, delicate that a drop of DDT can make itself unproductive and destroyed. I felt like nature has been so nice to me in offering so many resources, and also felt guilty that we tried to manipulate but ended up screwing up it.
I may not be a green thumb, but this workshop undoubtedly changed my view deeply in paying more attention to the present-day agricultural practices and related issues.