HK Honey brings sustainable agriculture and design to Hong Kong rooftops

26 Nov

By Eleanor Whitney

Conversations about beekeeping and rooftop gardens might be standard fare at dinner parties in Brooklyn, but such locavore sentiments aren’t yet commonplace in densely populated Hong Kong.

HK Honey aims to change that.

Founded by designer Michael Leung in 2010, HK Honey is a collective of beekeepers, artists and designers on a mission to communicate the value of bees and locally produced honey. Thirteen core staff, plus a network of interns and volunteers, maintain a 4,000–square foot rooftop bee farm in the Ngau Tok Kau section of Hong Kong. In addition to operating the farm and merchandising honey and candles at local stores and on their web shop, HK Honey helps community members to set up their own rooftop bee farms.

Michael Leung leads a tour with students from St. Francis’ Canossian College.

 

HK Honey operates a design studio for creating custom beehives and honey packaging, and hosts natural beeswax candle-making workshops and tours to show the benefits of locally produced food. With the help of a nonprofit community trust, HK Honey collaborates with organizations such as Amnesty International, for whom they designed a campaign and exhibition called “Light Up” to celebrate the organization’s 50-year anniversary in 2011. “Light Up” featured custom candles designed by 50 artists.

I emailed with Michael about his inspiration for founding the organization and how it’s grown.

DIYBA: How did you take the leap from an initial interest in beekeeping to founding HK Honey?

Michael Leung: I was first inspired to learn about bees when I was on holiday in Sweden in 2010. It was wintertime and my friend and I stumbled across two boxes in the forest—they were her dad’s beehives. From then on I was inspired to learn more. I discovered that urban beekeeping was happening in cities across the world such as New York, London and Paris. I thought, “Why not Hong Kong?”

I met a rural beekeeper in Hong Kong’s countryside named Mr. Yip, and he kindly took me on as an apprentice. After two months, he supplied me with my first two beehives and I began to keep bees as a hobby in addition to my design work.

Mr. Yip harvests wild Chinese bees in the Shatin mountains.

Is there a supportive community for local agriculture and products in Hong Kong? How do you educate communities in Hong Kong about your work?

There’s a community here, but it’s very small. Hong Kong is rampant with unsustainable supermarkets that carry products that must travel a great distance to be sold here.

For outreach we do school tours, from primary schools to PhD students and have presented to groups as diverse as architects and Jewish community members. We also offer urban beekeeping and candle-making workshops for a fee. This helps spread our philosophy in creative and community-based ways.

HK Honey Founder Michael Leung photo by Alex Brown

How do you connect with people to host hives on their roofs? Has this been a challenge or are people open to it?

People usually email us to express their interest in keeping bees on their rooftop. We then make a visit and assess the rooftop’s suitability for keeping bees.

People are generally very excited about it and many connect with us before hosting a hive, so they’re already open-minded and welcoming of the bees. Our video really helps in communicating that bees are not dangerous.

Hong Kong is such a densely populated city on a limited landmass where only about 18 square kilometers of land is actively farmed. How has your relationship with producers of local food developed as HK Honey evolved?

Hong Kong’s remaining farmers and agricultural land continue to inspire us. For example, there is one farm that is the only farm in Hong Kong to grow rice. These small but passionate farmers encourage us and share our vision for a more sustainable Hong Kong.

It can feel a bit lonely in Hong Kong working on urban agriculture, but we are meeting more and more enthusiasts and are collaborating with other rooftop farms.

HKHoney.org  | @hongkong_honey

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