Growing Food in the City

David Sanders and Binglaw are well-known amongst many of Hong Kong’s organic farming community, so there will be considerable interest in the book they have just published called Growing Food in the City – Microgardening: A Practical Guide. I asked Dave a few questions to whet the appetite of those who might like to buy the book.

I know you’re both experienced organic farmers. Can you tell us something about what you’ve been doing in the past?
My conversion from water engineering to organic agriculture started in 1974 in S. India where I volunteered for a couple of years working on two organic farms. They had to be organic then as they couldn’t afford chemical supplements! Lucky me then travelled the world, working on farms for the next 20 years. Then I met Binglaw in 1994 who was co-managing The Green Cottage organic farm on Lamma. I turned up and they gave me a part-time job as I was a single Dad at the time. Since then Binglaw and I have managed several organic farm projects in HK and UK. In 2007 we started up The Green Patch, our microgardening company, which is still going strong!
What made you turn to microgardening?
In 2007, Binglaw’s back, and mine, our knees and elbows started to get real sore. So we thought what next? Downsizing! I had made a sketch of an idea for a tiered microgarden many moons before while we were visiting a Buddhist temple for retired nuns on Lantau. They were eating great food which they cultivated in old wooden boxes on the roof and I thought….mmmmm, one day when we won’t have energy for the fields….
So, what kind of microgardens do you sell, and who are your customers?
Our popular microgardens are the tiered ones, on balconies, terraces and roofs. They are good for families, with the little ones using the lower tiers while Mum and Dad can use the higher ones. We’ve also installed gardens in over forty schools where children enjoy their gardening activities. Also, in a dozen care homes for the elderly who love the opportunity to re-discover their talents for gardening!
Do you offer a follow-up service to help them keep their microgardens well-maintained?
We do lots of support and follow-up work with schools, care homes and many private customers, supplying them with fresh organic grow media, seeds and fertilizer. Also we give talks and workshops, especially for the school students.
Can you tell us about some of your success stories?
Perhaps our greatest success stories are the preschoolers and kindergarten children. We are always amazed at how quickly they understand things in the garden, how much they care about the seeds and growing plants and absolute fun they have when harvesting. It gives us real satisfaction to see them eating their own-grown veggies, even radishes!
Who would you say the book is aimed at? Who would benefit from it?
The book is aimed at everyone, from 3 years to 93! I’ve illustrated it to make it easier to understand for the little ones. It becomes a little technical and relevant for older ones who perhaps know a little or else have done a fair bit of gardening before.
People in HK often talk about how busy they are, and might argue that they haven’t got time for microgardening. How would you answer them?
Ha ha! Time. I always say that microgardening isn’t a time-problem but a time-benefit activity. In terms of relaxing and having something that really is therapeutic, it’s harder to beat foraging amongst your own veggies and taking something out of the garden for dinner! After a hard day, this type of low-maintenance gardening really can help with de-stressing, having a half-hour or so of peaceful time!
I found the book informative, wide-ranging and easy to read. Do you have any other books in the pipeline?
I’m pretty excited about a follow-up book. I’ll be going round lots of schools over the next few months, doing talks, workshops and the odd book-signing at school fairs etc. I’ll be speaking to teachers, especially at primary schools, if they are able to get their keen young gardeners to write just a few lines about ‘My Garden, My Friend’. I suspect there will be some fabulous ideas. Hopefully, I can get enough imaginative stories to illustrate each one with a full page colour picture, reflecting ideas of their friendly garden!
Dave and Binglaw’s book contains a lot of very useful information, including what to plant and when. For further information or to order a copy ($120)  send an email to

About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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