“Why on earth do you want to go to Hong Kong?” asked my friend after learning about my plans. “Isn’t it the capital of consumerism and materialism?”

Of course it is. But besides its high-rise buildings, long bridges, brightly lit tunnels, big banks and mega-businesses there are people and projects that represent a new movement towards simplicity, sustainability and spirituality. In the context of the consumerist culture of Hong Kong, the idea of conservation may sound like a contradiction in terms. However, Hong Kong Island, which is the home of many multinationals, is only part of a territory that includes numerous other islands as well as the mainland areas of Kowloon and the New Territories. Only 25% of Hong Kong’s administrative area is built up, I was told, and that’s where the vast bulk of the 7.3 million population live, while the remaining land comprises hills, woods, grassland, fields and farms. This land needs special conservation, caring, cultivating and protecting from the never-ending appetite of the building industry and so-called developers.

Whenever these ‘developers’ see a pristine landscape of meadows and fields, they consider it as an undeveloped area waiting to be developed. My friends in Hong Kong are the defenders of the so-called undeveloped land and they are setting some wonderful examples showing that there is another economy beside the economy of banks, businesses and builders – the economy of Nature. In fact, the developers deal not in economy, but in ‘moneynomy’. They look at Nature, at fields and forests and see them as resources, as commodities from which they can make money, whereas the environmentalists constantly remind them that Nature is not a ‘resource’ for profit; rather, Nature is the source of all life.

I go to Hong Kong to support these ecologists, environmentalists and conservationists. Surprisingly, 40% of the administrative area of Hong Kong is designated as country parks and Nature reserves. Even though much of the primary rainforest was cleared over centuries and particularly during the second world war, there are still secondary rainforests here that need saving and safeguarding.

One of the champions of this conservation movement is Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, headed by my friend Andrew McAulay, whose team of two hundred staff work with diligence and dedication to uphold the ideals of simplicity, sustainability and spirituality. They manage 350 acres of permaculture and silviculture and run educational programmes for local schools and national and international visitors.

“Sustainability is not complete without spirituality,” says Andrew. “We are conservationists, not only out of fear, but out of love; we love Nature, we love animals, plants, birds and insects – in fact, all life. We want people to come to Kadoorie Farm and see what we are doing in order to know Nature and experience the beauty, generosity and abundance of life. When they see, smell, taste and touch the enthralling and vibrant qualities of natural life, they encounter something magical, mysterious and vital.”

Andrew is more than a conservationist: he is also a poet and a philosopher. He is no longer actively involved in his family business and instead he has developed a life in service of planet Earth and its people. (He is also a long-time supporter of Resurgence.) Through the work promoting, protecting and enhancing biodiversity, environmental awareness and food production at Kadoorie Farm, which was set up 60 years ago in order to help poor farmers to help themselves, he has demonstrated that even in a place like Hong Kong people can set a good example.

The farm has become a shining example of agro-ecology, permaculture, natural farming and organic agriculture, and food production is carried out as an integral part of the conservation of flora and fauna.

“All of us need food – we cannot survive without it – but food producers and farmers are looked down on. They are given little respect. The work of Kadoorie Farm is to restore dignity to farmers,” Andrew told me.

And he is right. Many of those who work in banks or businesses receive enormous salaries, but most of those who work on the land are lucky to get enough to live on. Why? Why is fiddling with figures on a computer screen considered more important than producing nourishing, delicious and healthy food, without which we would all be dead? The values and priorities of the modern world have gone so ‘crooked’ that no wonder the life of our planet Earth is in such a dire state.

This is why Kadoorie Farm is not just a farm, but also a centre for education. And this is why they invite me to teach. I gave a public talk and ran a three-day course for 30 people on the theme ‘Reconnecting with Our Roots: Spirit, Culture and Nature’. The course took place at the Green Hub, which is a newly opened centre of education at the old police station in the town of Tai Po. Kadoorie Farm, in collaboration with the government of Hong Kong, has carried out eco-renovation of this Grade I listed building, built in 1899, in order to showcase the vision of sustainable living and to demonstrate that people in Hong Kong can live well while respecting and protecting the environment.

Situated on a hill and surrounded by ancient woodland, the Green Hub is an oasis of peace and tranquillity. People from all over Hong Kong come to see this imaginatively and pleasingly restored old building and to enjoy wholesome, organic and locally sourced delicious food in the Eat Well Canteen. These are its guiding principles:

  • Move away from meat
  • Eat seasonally and locally
  • Learn to cook
  • Cook lightly
  • Minimise waste

To Resurgence & Ecologist readers these principles may seem ordinary and familiar, but in the context of Hong Kong they represent a revolutionary concept.

Fortunately the Eat Well Canteen is not alone in its mission. In the heart of Hong Kong Island I met the founder of MANA! restaurant, Bobsy Gaia, who admitted that running a business and at the same time being eco-friendly is no easy task. But Bobsy is stubborn and determined to make a success of his vision.

“People in Hong Kong are busy. I want to offer them ‘Fast Slow Food’. I want to prove that you can have high-quality food with fresh ingredients and zero waste,” he said. “Now we make compost with all our food scraps – two tonnes per month. These scraps are sent to organic farms, where they become food for the soil. Food waste is a crime against Nature! Our motto is ‘Eat Like It Matters’.”

Listening to Bobsy, I reflected on the irony of modern Britain, where hungry people are queuing for food at food banks while an estimated 40% of food is thrown away from households, restaurants and supermarkets. So-called developed countries are appallingly inefficient when it comes to food!

Andrew, his sister Deborah and I had a wonderful meal and an inspiring time at MANA!, and I was much impressed by the grace of the restaurant:

“Earth, who gives to us this food,
Sun, who makes it ripe and good.
Dear Earth, dear Sun by you we live,
Our loving thanks to you we give.
Blessings on this meal.”

“The words Hong Kong mean ‘Fragrant Harbour’. Once upon a time people used to export timber, like sandalwood, that gave a sweet smell, from Hong Kong harbour. Thus the island got its name. That aromatic wood is no longer exported, but the perfume of our food, our sweet-smelling flora and fauna – they are still here and they need protecting,” said Bobsy.

For more information, visit: www.greenhub.hk/eng www.mana.hk

Satish Kumar is the author of Soil, Soul, Society and is Editor Emeritus of The Resurgence Trust.