How many Farmers' Markets can you name in Hong Kong? Even if you can name them, how many have you visited and purchased from? Our guess is: Not Many. Meet Janice Leung, local food writer who now adds another entry to her resume: organizer of a local farmer's market. Janice is joining forces with Vince Poon, managing director of the Hong Kong Markets Organization, in bringing the market to Quarry Bay. For 4 Sundays in a row, starting September 30, the Island East Market will kickoff at Taikoo Place in Quarry Bay. We sat down to have a chat with Janice on the idea of the Island East Market, as well as what we can expect from the one of a kind farmer's Market.
As a co-founder of the upcoming Island East Market, Janice took up our challenge naming Hong Kong's farmer's market. "There are about 100 working professional farms in HK, but only a handful of farmers markets, summing a total of less than 100 stalls available for all of these farmers. These farms are not all sizable ones which in turn do not produce enough for a steady supply at large-chain supermarkets," explained Janice. "When I visited the Federation of Vegetable Marketing and Corporative Society (FVMCS), I pitched the idea of the (Island East) Market and they welcome the idea. It in fact offers another venue for farmers to sell their produce."
For a market that attracts a sizable crowd, it's all about location. Janice lets us in on the local farmers market she's been to. "I have visited the Farmers Market at Tai Po, which I admit took me more than an hour one-way to get there. It is far and not exactly practical for people living on the island side," said Janice. "There are other ones like the one in Tuen Mun, Mei Foo, and a few smaller ones at farms in the New Territories. They can be so far out there, and even if it's closer in the city area, like the one in Central Pier, there aren't many stalls and varieties of produce sold there, " Janice continued.
Speaking off distance, Janice has visited the Farmer's Market at Discovery Bay(DB), by far the most ‘authentic' farmers market in the city that gives the most feel and closeness between farmers and customers. "There is a drawback to the DB Market though, which is timing. It closes at 2pm, which literally is ‘in the middle of the day'. People wake up late and schedule morning activities on the weekend, and we feel that if we are going to make this market idea work, we need to have it all day from 10 am to 5pm, and at a convenient location, that's why we picked Tong Chong Street, in the heart of Taikoo Place in Quarry Bay."
The Island East Market started off as a platform supporting local farmers selling their local organic vegetables. Then the idea dives into a spin and will become a local hub for not only farmers and their produce, but will also feature a mélange of small businesses, local talents in art, crafts, and designs. "We want to give them an outlet trying to sell what they work for and to gain exposure for people to know what they are doing," explained Janice. But she didn't stop there. The market has a grand mission to accomplish. "We want to promote healthy living to the public, which has a lot more to do than just eating healthy. Hong Kong is such a vibrant city where we live in cut-throat speed. The market that features these fun elements aims to bring the people out into the city, and enjoy what the city can offer. It offers a place to slow down and unwind over fresh produce and interesting creations. "
Having settled with concept and location come the features at the Island East Market - the Farmers. Janice explained that exclusivity is not in the works for farmers that sell their produce at the market as some of them do sell their produce in other farmers market in the city. Other than having ground for trade, farmers are humble people who know what they are doing and there is hope for them to transcend their knowledge through the customer's support by visiting them at the market.
Other small businesses are invited to join the farmers in creating a colorful variety of vendors at the Island East Market. Janice has more to add. "We found these businesses from all over the place: some have facebook pages, and some we found from these businesses' favorites list, whereas some of them were already on my wish-list for quite some time, such as Grassroots Pantry, the vegetarian restaurant du jour; and Tai Tai Pie Pies, where pastry maker RJ Asher creates scrumptious Western pies from Apple to Blueberry and savoury delights. It will be nice to see everything come together at the market."
Having covered the market, we came to the issue on organic certification in HK. "The organic certification in Hong Kong covers a wide range of subjects to test. Not only are the produce collected as test samples, but also the soil. We are fortunate to have the FVMCS help us test the produce randomly," explained Janice. "The organization goes one step further by testing compost as well. If a non-organic component is present in the compost piled labeled as organic, the entire pile cannot be used in an organic farm. This is how strict these standards are and we love it, as they help keep farmers on their toes with being the purists they practice their farming on."
Aside from stalls and vendors, there are other special features at the Island East Market as well. There is going to be a kids-friendly area where family can engage in face-painting and art and craft tutorials. There will also be cooking demos at the entertainment stage, featuring famous chefs here in Hong Kong. In the lineup are Shane Osborn of St. Betty's fame and FINDS' Jaakko Sorsa. The Island East Market is also recruiting volunteers to help set up the stalls and offer help to visitors and farmers during market hours. Interested parties please feel free to contact Janice at [email protected] for more details.