From restaurants to schools, these urban sanctuaries connect communities and grow fresh hope

Baby tomatoes growing on a rooftop
Rooftop farm view
Farmer and cabbage
4th floor garden
Hysan Urban Farm
The Loop Urban Farm
An insect hotel designed by students
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One Island East

The peppery tang of an edible nasturtium flower is an unexpected delight when plucked directly from the stem and consumed whole on a misty winter morning. What is even more surprising, however, is its location: this lush garden of fresh vegetables and herbs grows on the rooftop of one of Hong Kong’s tallest buildings, One Island East, sixty-eight storeys above ground. Fifty large planters contain crops ranging from just-sprouting seedlings to cabbage ready for harvest, along with a fragrant profusion of spearmint, rosemary, lemongrass, parsley and chocolate mint – named for its brown stem.

Hong Kong’s rooftop farms provide delicious, fresh produce to local communities and restaurants, and engage city dwellers who yearn for a connection with nature. Some are available for visits or participation by the public; others are hidden, inaccessible and designed to make the most of unused roof space. Still, others help young people understand where their food comes from and how it relates to the community.

Rooftop Republic Urban Farming

Michelle Hong co-founded Rooftop Republic Urban Farming in 2015. She explains the organisation’s decision to focus on farms in the city: “Our mission is to reconnect people to what they eat. Because Hong Kong depends on imports, many kids think vegetables just come from supermarkets. Food is more than a commodity; it has a story.”

Nan Fung Group

A rooftop farm is often launched as part of a company’s corporate strategy. Nan Fung Group considers the gardens at its flagship building in Kai Tak integral to its core values and community outreach plan; for Swire Properties, its urban farming programme, The Loop, is part of its vision to be the leading sustainable development performer in its industry globally. Julie Wong of Hysan Development says of the company’s farms, “Our aim is to give urban people in Hong Kong a sense of meaning and sustainability.” Meanwhile, restaurants like Treehouse, which focuses on sustainable food, look to rooftop farms to fulfil their need for local produce.

Mindfield

Due to the necessities of building design, many properties in Hong Kong end up with grey zones on their rooftops – spaces adjacent to building maintenance services which cannot be developed for commercial use. According to Alfred Tse, founder of eco-farm enterprise Mindfield, these grey zones can be ideal spaces to establish a rooftop garden, especially when incorporated into the original building design.

Mindfield partnered with Nan Fung Group to create the farming programme at the new Airside facility in Kai Tak, a mixed-use commercial development. The building houses a total planting area of 6,000 square feet, including a large rooftop and a public farm on the second floor. It was designed with planters in mind, including concrete, boundaries, waterproof surfaces and soil. The vegetable beds thrive on nutrient-rich compost created at the Hong Kong government’s O-Park1 facility. This eco-friendly compost cleverly upcycles food scraps like soybean waste, brewer’s waste, Chinese herbal tea leftovers and even used coffee grounds.

One Island East

Hong Kong’s highest rooftop garden is located at One Island East, a Swire property in Taikoo, at the top of a staircase leading upwards from the sixty-seventh floor. There, Rooftop Republic grows crops from seed and transplants seedlings in large, plastic planters, including four kinds of tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and Chinese chives.

Rooftop Republic

Farms are hidden on commercial building roofs around Hong Kong. Rooftop Republic established its first large rooftop farm with JLL on the roof of the Bank of America Tower in Central, and there is even a 3,500-square-foot farm on top of the composting tunnel at the government O-Park1 facility. Farms can be found at several buildings in Taikoo Place, Pacific Place in Admiralty and South Island Place. Meanwhile, Sun Hung Kai has urban farms at thirty-seven of its managed properties. Although not all of them are accessible to the public, these farms are used to engage with tenants or guests.

While many rooftop gardens can only be accessed by building tenants, several of Hong Kong’s urban farms are open to the public and invite community engagement.

Hysan Place Lee Garden Club

At Hysan Place in Causeway Bay, members who have signed up for Lee Garden Club, a loyalty app, can join farming workshops in an immensely popular program launched in 2013. The company’s farming partner, SEED, teaches people how to farm organically, with each session lasting several weeks. Participants have a one-square-metre planter and maintain the farm with SEED, attending once or more times each week. Julie Wong comments, “Some people even want to become professional farmers after they’ve learned the skills here.”

Airside Farm

The Airside farm in Kai Tak recruits farming ambassadors through the Employee Retraining Board and opens its extensive second-floor garden for visits at any time. Schools and NGOs hold public classes there; to register, members of the public can sign up by joining the NF Touch loyalty app, with tours held every Sunday.

Metroplaza

Metroplaza shopping mall, at 10,000 square feet, is Hong Kong’s largest urban farm and hosts programmes including guided tours to its urban farms, microgreens plantation experiences and green workshops.

Love Play Farm

Meanwhile, guests of Langham Place in Mongkok can visit the Love Play Farm, a small public herb garden on the fourth floor, just before they taste the flavours at dinner.

Unlike commercial buildings focused on tenant engagement, several Hong Kong schools, including The Harbour School, ISF Academy, and Island School, are harnessing the power of rooftop gardens to enrich their curriculum.

It’s not just about the plants; ultimately, it’s about the people.

Alfred Tse, Mindfield

Outdoor Wildlife Learning Hong Kong

Urban farms can also be a place to experiment. Airside partnered with Outdoor Wildlife Learning Hong Kong to establish a tiny insect hotel at its farm and take a monthly survey of insects. The garden is also used to showcase companion planting, where two species that are beneficial to each other are planted together. For example, the scent of the herbs may distract insects and reduce the use of pesticides.

Alfred Tse advises would-be farmers to treat rooftop farms both as a demonstration and a message to the community. “Why do we need a farm in the heart of the city instead of more offices and restaurants? It’s about how we live in harmony with the community. It’s not just about the plants; ultimately, it’s about the people.”

Text Genevieve Hilton / Photos by Jan Lee or as credited