Bhola is doing such a good job on our farm that I’m beginning to wonder if we could turn it into a full time job for both of us now that I’m being forced into retirement in August this year. In four months he has turned a chest-high mass of weeds and grasses into orderly rows of ridges growing an array of vegetables and herbs. At the moment we have mustard leaves, lettuce, rocket, white radish, carrot, dill, chives, coriander, rosemary, and some peas like mangetout. It’s strange how some patches are producing very good vegetables, and then right next to them another patch of the same veggies are really looking forlorn. However, this is perhaps not so surprising on land that has lain waste for many long years. The cold weather and excessive dryness have slowed many things down, so our tomatoes are taking a long time to fruit, and I’ve got some celery that is taking a lifetime to develop above half an inch. However, it’s truly exhilarating to be involved in growing your own food and – more so now – being able to provide other people with good, organic vegetables at a low price.
Our main aim is to improve the soil as quickly as possible, and we’re doing that by making a number of compost heaps both for vegetable waste and for the cow manure that Bhola goes out and collects every day from the feral cows that are never far away. I find it really satisfying – and not a little miraculous – to see a pile of waste matter gradually turn itself into a beautiful rich soil with a good dose of bugs and beasties running around in it. Helping to build these micro-communities and using them to build up fertile soil is one of those few activities in life that make me feel really good about myself because I know that what I’m doing is entirely a good thing.
Yet I’m actually doing less myself than I used to, because Bhola is running the farm, and he’s even watering my allotment every day, which takes away one of my major weekend tasks. I’ve actually shifted from being a Saturday farmer to being a manager – something I’ve never done before and which is taking a bit of mental readjustment on my part to get used to. But I’m enjoying it. In fact, I feel that doing farmwork of whatever kind is what makes me feel totally fulfilled. It’s a highly skilled job, contrary to what most people think, and it takes a lot of careful organisation to keep a succession of plants rolling out throughout the season. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to pay the bills, especially of my kids’ education as they draw closer to secondary-school age. Nevertheless, with an expert like Bhola working for me, I’m going to try my damnedest to turn this into a new career for me.
If anybody in South Lantau wants to come and have a look at what we’re doing, they are more than welcome. You can buy vegetables on the farm or we can deliver to your door if you live in Mui Wo. We can’t go beyond Mui Wo as we have only bikes for transport. At the moment we’re selling a mixed bag of vegetables and herbs for $50 – far cheaper than you would get it in any shop – and we’ll continue to do that for as long as we’re able. We especially want to make organic produce cheap enough for everyone to buy, and not just the wealthy. Buying local reduces your food miles to virtually zero, and buying organic means you’re cutting out all of the fossil fuel usage that goes into producing and delivering fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. In fact, buying local organic produce is a significant way of reducing your carbon footprint and improving the taste of the food you eat, as well as improving the nutritional content of that food. A no-brainer, really.