I heart farmers’ market
MAY 27 — Don’t laugh. I buy organic vegetables grown in Cameron Highlands. It goes without saying — but I will say so — that I pay multiple times more here at my local Park n’ Shop supermarket.
Visitors to Hong Kong will note right off the bat that the vegetables here in this shiny skyscraper-filled city are amazingly fresh and crunchy.
Wherever you go, even at the hole-in-the-wall cha chan teng serving only noodles and ONE type of vegetable (and where Chinese tea is the only beverage), you can bet the vegetable will never be limp.
I also hit the wet market, buying a half kati of any familiar-looking greens, usually choy sum, kai lan, watercress, siu pak choy and tau miu (sweet pea sprouts).
I thought I was doing well. By shopping local, I was cutting down on my carbon footprint. By eating seasonal offerings, I was eating healthy, nutritious vegetables.
Then news started to trickle in about our “healthy” vegetables.
It seems that Hong Kong produces only three per cent of vegetables consumed here. Ninety per cent are imported from neighbouring China.
Last year, we read in the Press how vegetables could be bad for us — excessively high levels of potentially harmful heavy metals were found in a test covering 93 vegetables from the mainland.
Images of vegetables grown in heavily polluted water, some discoloured by pollution upstream, others swimming in rubbish are burned into memory.
A study by the Baptist University showed that the level of cadmium found in Indian lettuce grown in China was 2.4 times over the safety limit set by the government. Lead was detected in 11 vegetables, exceeding the European Union’s safety limit but was considered to be still within the limit set by the government.
The study also discovered that choy sum and spinach were the most contaminated as these vegetables absorb lead more easily.
Too much cadmium may cause kidney stones. Excess lead can affect the brain activity of children. Cadmium is found in the fertiliser while lead is from polluted irrigation water.
And to think I have been forcing my child to eat his vegetables. He loves green leafy veg now.
So I did what every other concerned parent is probably doing. I buy imported. Organic, expensive. Not necessarily fresh, having travelled days and stored in supermarket refrigerators for who knows how long.
The final straw came when I brought home a tray of mouldy red chillies to make sambal belacan. More than half had to be chucked out.
Last weekend, I decided to check out a local farmer’s market at the Star Ferry Pier in Central. Who would have imagined I could be so happy to see veg riddled with holes. Less pesticides, right?
I was tickled to see the cutest baby carrots with their green tops still attached. Their colour was bright, unlike the dull greyish orange I see in the bag of imported organic baby carrots in the supermarket.
I picked up the carrots, baby potatoes, spinach, ladies fingers, the shiniest cherry tomatoes ever, sweetcorn and string beans.
The vegetables were not cheap but hey, I was already paying a premium for the imported ones and these looked — and tasted — far better.
I was also happy to note that brown paper bags and used paper shopping bags were used instead of plastic bags.
The farmer I spoke to, Fung Ming Hong, owner of Hong’s Organic Farm in Kam Tin, proved to be a wealth of information about his produce. It was such a pleasure speaking to the man who knew the story behind his produce.
He introduced me to a leafy green from the spinach family, which he said was good for soups (boiled with ikan bilis stock and salted egg — yum!).
From him I learned that during the summer months his customers were mostly local Chinese as mostly Chinese vegetables were grown. In the winter months, he has more expat customers who come for the Western vegetables.
Though the market was small, consisting of only 12 stalls selling produce, it is worth a visit, if only to meet the folks behind the scenes and see how fresh, organic vegetables should look. The farms are located in Kam Tin and Fan Ling in the New Territories.
The only downside of shopping here — and this really should be an upside — is that my star buys did not last long.
Without the heavy use of pesticides to prolong their shelf life, by day three, despite being refrigerated, the beans had become hard, the sweet potato leaves had wilted and a couple of tomatoes were beginning to rot.
I’m planning to go back today to search for more local treaures.
*The Organic Farmers’ Market is organised by Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Find it at Star Ferry Pier #7, Central. Sun 11am-5pm.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist
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