Outside the second-floor entrance to the Main Library, a splash of green stands out against the concrete, steel and glass of the surrounding buildings—a fragrant oasis of calm at the doorstep of one of the University’s most frenetic, stress-steeped junctions.
This is the HKU Herb Garden. It was set up by students under the guidance of permaculture practitioners as part of a General Education Unit course, using upcycled material such as old bamboo from the flower market. The garden primarily focuses on growing edible plants, which consume a similar level of energy and resources as ornamental landscaping but at the same time produces fresh organic herbs for the community.
It’s our University’s latest experiment in campus horticulture, but not the only one. It was preceded in 2013 by the HKU Rooftop Farm atop the Runme Shaw Building, which was co-organised by the General Education Unit and the Sustainability Office and maintained by student and staff volunteers who have completed relevant GE courses.
HKU Herb Garden holds regular sharing events with herbal tea and herbs-giveaways during term. General Education Unit also holds a monthly Harvest Lunch to share vegetables and fruits from the rooftop farm with students and staff members
However, green spaces can be about much more than just providing sustenance. They also create a space for students and staff to come together, share knowledge and experience, promote sustainable living, and reconnect with nature. Throughout the academic year, the Herb Garden and Rooftop Farm are the sites of organic farming workshops, book launches, and visits from local and international students and experts from Hong Kong and abroad.
Most of us urban-dwellers never experience the joy of growing our own vegetables and become disconnected from our food. In a city that imports 98 percent of its vegetables, projects like the HKU Herb Garden and Rooftop Farm can bridge this gap, bring us closer to the natural environment and change the attitudes and practices of the next generation. And in a world where nearly one-third of our total greenhouse gas emissions come from food production and food packaging accounts for almost two-thirds of aggregate packaging waste, that change has never been more imperative.
Sharing food, knowledge and engaging in a cooperative activity like farming also helps to nurture a sense of community—one that shares the same concerns around health, the environment and our future—and inspires more creative and sustainable use of space and resources.