By SHU DIAN
HONG KONG — Thanks to a mobile app named Au Law Organic Farm (歐羅有機農場), Hong Kong residents can punch a few taps on their cell phones to have organic food delivered directly to their homes.
Wong Yuwing, the owner of Au Law Farm, which is located in the New Territories, said the incentive for starting the business was stimulated by ongoing food safety issues in the city and mainland China.
The former business manager, who was once earning more than HK$40,000 per month, quit his desk job in 2010 and went to Yuen Long, a rural area in Hong Kong, to set up an organic farm.
Wong said as the news media frequently reported about dangerously unhealthy food during the past several years, local consumer concerns about safe food grew, leading to the growth in the market of organic and healthier alternatives.
“Many parents would like to buy organic food for their children, despite higher prices,” said Xiao Qing, a Hong Kong kindergarten teacher. “After all, children are more vulnerable to chemicals in food.”
There were only a few organic farms when he first established Au Law, Wong said. Now more organic farms are populating the countryside around him.
But the life of an entrepreneurial farmer is not easy, Wong said.
The former office worker said the beginning was difficult in trying to get the support of his family so he could quit his job to begin an organic farm. Farming in China is often regarded as a profession for the uneducated.
“We offered him the best education to get away from farm work. Going back to the field is absolutely not we expected from him,” said Wong Liqing, Wong’s older sister, expressing that her family thought Wong could earn more money with less effort by keeping his managerial job.
But over time, tracking Wong’s determination and the farm’s success, his family gradually decided to support him. Several relatives quit their jobs to help Wong in recent years.
With his early success, Wong also experienced several setbacks. The most serious of which happened last year, when wild oxen attacked and destroyed more than 5,000 corn stalks of the 7,000 Wong planted. The loss of the majority of his crop, compounded by an unexpected economic shock, was a horrible strike to the farm, Wong said.
“I might encounter more similar obstacles in the future.” Wong said, undeterred. “I already knew that organic farms are more vulnerable than regular modern farms.”
Although Wong learned something about farming during childhood, moving from the office to the farm required more new skills. Wong said he educated himself to grasp various strategies to plant, raise, and gather more than 60 different varieties of vegetables. Avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, his farm produces lower yields. Wong also learned how to become a beekeeper and three months ago he attended an organic agricultural training course at Taiwan Mingdao University.
Getting the produce quickly from the field to the table is a logistical task that Wong has solved by using various channels for selling and delivering his products. He said he is able to vend most of his green goods quickly, including super sweet corn and potatoes, which currently are his top sellers.
Just relying on telephone sales or traditional green market sales in the city was not enough for Wong. Employing digital and mobile technology, Wong has taken a 21st-Century step to getting his produce to his customers.
Through social media, his Facebook page, a website, and most recently a mobile app, Wong’s organic farm business is exploiting many modern revenue streams. His app allows customers to view pictures of farm, search food prices, receive special offers, and make orders without a delivery fee.
Wong is also able to increase his income by renting plots of land on his farm to people who wish to grow their own organic food. He helps individuals learn how to harvest vegetables. Groups and neighborhood collectives also book temporary cultivating activities. Wong posts message on Facebook, inviting people to attend a guided tour of the farm.
“I enjoy the air and occasional field work,” Li Yiqiao, a customer, who once visited the farm, wrote during an online interview. “It is a great exercise for people who usually sit all day.”
Although organic farming is rising in popularity in Hong Kong, getting enough land to expand is a serious issue in the New Territories.
“To secure higher land prices, owners prefer selling their land to real estate agents.” Wong’s sister said. “They would rather wait for offers from real estate agents than rent it to a farm.”
Organic farms are also labor intensive. Most are tended by hand and there is a shortage of skilled farmhands.
Like most other organic farms in the area, all of Wong’s employees are his relatives. On occasion, even his 78-year-old mother comes to help work the farm.
“I am 46 years old now, but I am younger than most farmers in Hong Kong,” said Wong, expressing that farm work is not an attractive career for young men.
Edited by CHEN CIZEWA