Green dreams

Concerned about the use of harmful chemicals, many people have turned to growing their own fruit and vegetables in whatever space they can find.

By Hong Nhung. Photos: Van Cao on July 07,2015 07:36 AM

Green dreams

Along Thang Long Boulevard in Hanoi, between the main road and the smaller access road, is a 20-metre wide piece of land that is covered in vegetable patches and fruit trees for about a kilometre, as local people put it the otherwise empty space to good use. Others with land lots around the country also grow their own safe and hygienic fruit and vegetables for their family.

Thirty-year-old Pham Thanh Huyen, who works as an interpreter for a magazine, also chooses to have her own vegetable garden, in a small land lot she shares with other residents of the Dang Xa apartment block in the capital’s Gia Lam district. ‘I love to grow good food for my family and I really enjoy gardening,’ she said. ‘With the free-wheeling use of pesticides and chemicals by farmers these days the poor health effects may not be seen immediately but they’ll be felt in the future.’ When she needs vegetables she doesn’t grow herself, she always hunts down organic ones.

Others who don’t have access to land, especially city-dwellers, grow vegetables in flower boxes or pots.

Green dreams

Twenty-five year old Do Anh Ngoc is proud of her rooftop garden. ‘Since I gave birth to my baby boy my husband and I wanted our own garden so we didn’t have to buy vegetables at the market or even the supermarket, which most people presume are safe,’ she said. The quality and safety of vegetables sold at the market, she believes, are anything but guaranteed as farmers use toxic chemicals to make them larger and have a good appearance without any consideration given to the long-term health effects on consumers.

She has more than 100 flower boxes in her rooftop garden. ‘I haven’t had to buy any vegetables since my boy started weaning,’ she said. ‘We can grow many of the vegetables sold at the market, even luffa and cucumber, as well as many types of herbs.’

Seeds and soil can easily be found in Hanoi. Dang Xuan Nghiem has a farm in the capital’s outlying district of Dong Anh, where he runs his Sinh Nong business, providing safe vegetables. He also sells the necessary materials for people who want to have their own garden. Nutrient soil (soil mixed with organic fertilizer) sells for VND3,000 per kilo and a plastic flower box from VND30,000 to 50,000. To fill a large box (60 x 70 x 80cm) you need about 30-50 kilograms of soil. He also sells many types of plant seeds. Better still, Nghiem builds frames for climbing plants and automatic irrigating systems, which make life easier for home farmers. Seeds, soil, and boxes can also be found along Hanoi’s Hoang Hoa Tham Street.

Green city

Green dreams

Understanding the demand among urban citizens, many services have been set up to offer assistance, including the leasing of land to grow vegetables. Nguyen Danh Tung in Hanoi came up with the idea of creating gardens for urbanites by leasing a hectare of alluvial plain in the Red River under the new Nhat Tan Bridge and dividing it into 30 - 40 square metre lots. Tung and others grow vegetables on these areas on behalf of specific customers, from seeding to harvesting. It costs VND1.5 million per month for a 30 square metre garden and VND2 million per month for 40 square metres. Dates for planting and the expected day of harvesting and all other information are reported weekly to his customers. Every two or three days, the harvested vegetables are brought to their homes. If a customer would like to harvest the vegetables on their own, Tung can organise a picnic day out for them. If the family can’t consume all the vegetables grown, he helps them to sell the excess on the internet.

Nguyen Ngoc Khuyen, a 36-year-old in HCMC’s District 12, has his own way of growing vegetables. ‘I’m a fan of the new natural ecosystem trend in gardening, so I started making my models about five or six years ago,’ he said. In his garden are big tanks full of fish and large plastic trays of green vegetables with an automatic irrigating system called aquaponics. The fish are fed, and their droppings are converted by microbes into nutrients for the vegetables.

Khuyen also researched a vegetable tower, in which compost from kitchen waste is used to nourish vegetables. The system not only provides organic vegetables but also helps to protect the environment. He has made sustainable agricultural models for friends around the country, in HCMC, Hanoi, Haiphong, Lao Cai, Dak Lak, Danang and Ca Mau. ‘Depending on the size and the demand and budget of the family, I can design a suitable garden for them,’ he said. ‘The cost can be from VND1 million to tens of millions of dong, and can take between a couple of hours and a couple of weeks to build.’

Hi-tech agriculture is helping many people make their own green dream come true. Thirty-six year old agricultural engineer Nguyen Van Cao lives in central Quang Ngai province and runs a small business called Gia Vien (Family Garden) that provides hydroponic gardening systems to families and restaurants as well as mineral nutrient solution bottles for vegetables. He said it costs VND5 million to make an automatic recirculation system that helps to grow vegetables and cuts the time and effort needed to do so. ‘We make these gardening systems for thousands of households nationwide and many big restaurants in Hue,’ he said. ‘It costs from VND500,000 to hundreds of millions of dong, depending on the size and materials, for you to have your own safe vegetable garden. Last year our revenue was nearly VND2 billion, which proves there is demand for growing safe vegetables and creating a green space among city residents.’

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