Monday, February 12, 2007

Something new (for us) in the New Territories: Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens

Spurred on by friends and the visit of Phil’s mother, we recently headed out past Kowloon to the New Territories, the part of Hong Kong that borders mainland China. We were lured to the New Territories by Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens, a highly spoken of green space haven in urban Hong Kong. As we drove further and further away from Central’s (downtown Hong Kong’s) skyscrapers, the views of the lower lying suburbs were appealing in and of themselves. A gray apartment block of only 20 -30 floors with a little river running by looks downright quaint these days (not to mention, very Soviet).

After a few missed turns, we arrived at Kadoorie Farm and parked in a parking spot we previously reserved, one of about 10 parking spots for the entire place. The farm looks to be forested hills, all surrounding the largest mountain in the area, Mount Tai Mo Shan. We entered through the organic market place and were quickly subsumed in nature art and craft activities held on the first Sunday of every month. We then wandered through beautifully manicured gardens and past animal enclosures of all kinds and I began to realize this was only a farm in the loosest definition of the word.

Actually, Kadoorie Farms started out as a farm back in the 1950's and only more recently morphed into a biodiversity habitiat and exercise in sustainable agriculture. In 1951, the brothers Lord Lawerence Kadoorie and Sir Horace Kadoorie started the farm as an aid association aimed at helping refugees from mainland China (and later decommissioned Gurkha-Nepalese- soldiers) learn farming techniques. The early farm provided technical assistance, agriculture inputs and interest free loans. Early focuses were on livestock, particularly pigs and chickens. Certain breeds were developed to exist in Hong Kong’s specific climate. Over the past 50 years, Kadoorie Farms worked with 300,000 farmers and developed agriculture extension services in the area. The occasional picture of Prince Charles overlooking a chicken coop reminds one of the high visibility and scale of donors the Kadoorie brothers brought to the refugee issue.

As we wandered around, we viewed some growing things with awe- mainly those with great huge flowers or the recognizable bananna trees. But what really caught our attention were the animal enclosures, full of animals that had been rescued from the local area. The birds of prey aviary had impressive owls and hawks and finally, the black kite. The black kite is the bird we see every day outside our apartment windows, diving and swooping into the sea, but have never known what to call it. We don’t know much after six months in Hong Kong but now, at least, we know the name of a local bird!


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