I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a Freedom and Culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.
— Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” (1862)
I have been asked how I came to know HK Farm. In the spring of 2014, I stepped into Wong Chuk Hang’s neighbourhood café MUM, a vegetarian spot created by designer Po Kit, and found Michael Leung there wearing an apron. I had heard of his work with agriculture and HK Honey, and had met his farming partner Glenn when he lead a school visit to Spring Workshop the prior week. So I introduced myself. As Michael told me stories that touched on local produce, guerrilla farmers, planter building and permaculture practices, his passion reminded me that there are things we are obliged to care about as humans.
Glenn Eugen Ellingson, Anthony Ko, and Michael Leung of HK Farm began their one-year residency at Spring Workshop, the arts and residency space located in Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong, in the autumn of 2014. Not only as farmers, but as thinkers with a vision who use their backgrounds in art, design and business to communicate their practice and philosophy in a compelling way. Everyone is energised by the dialogues they ignite, and we are all implicated by what they represent.
Consider a few of their actions over the past year: they rescued generations-rich topsoil from a New Territories farm on their backs before it could be covered with concrete by developers. This soil filled hand-built planters on our terrace in Wong Chuk Hang, as well as on rooftops in Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok where they sowed edible crops that are tended by the neighbourhood. They created a station where you can record yourself talking and singing to plants. These messages are then played to the plants using audio players and futuristic little round speakers, hanging from clear lucite posts inserted into the planters like tiny, colourful beehives.
The farmers and the Spring team took turns tending the farm daily, rain or shine. They led school tours where children made their own seed bombs, and then them launched into hidden corners and dirt patches for future sprouting in our urban neighbourhood. They purchased aloe vera and other seedlings from a guerrilla farmer. They gifted saved seeds in hand-painted packets to farmers and green-thumbs all over the world, encouraging all of us to continue the seed exchange as a contemplative and meaningful practice. They bred worms and created compost boxes, championing permaculture as a way of life and living it themselves in ways that always keeps us on our toes.
Now after a year of watching the plants burst into life under so many caretakers, the leafy, the rescued-soil planters will be moved one by one into a farm diaspora on rooftops and at schools all over the territory, carrying the HK Farm vision like dandelion seeds flying to every area by the wind. We will miss their compelling presence at Spring, but the challenge they present is indelible and will remain with us here. They have made it impossible not to care.
Who would have thought, all this nature in the built up universe that we call our home, Hong Kong. To Freedom and Culture – and now: Wildness!