Irene Huang Yixia
Living in an urban jungle, most of us are used to desk-bound work that does not ask for more body movement than sitting at a computer, typing away into the night. But some people are going back to nature and starting to farm, enticed by agricultural tourism courses that are catching on.
Going back to nature has become a healthy alternative to spending spare time other than going on a shopping spree amid swarms of “shopaholics”, dancing in raucous clubs or endless queuing at theme parks that you have already been to for a couple of times.
Several organisations in Hong Kong are offering agricultural tourism, or agritourism, certificate courses to meet the demand as a growing number of citizens visit farms as their leisure activities.
Produce Green Foundation, a non-profit charitable organisation in Hong Kong, is providing a course entitled Certificate in Agricultural Tourism between April 1 and May 24 for people who need agriculture-related skills at work or who are simply interested in organic farming.
Established in 1988 by a group of local enthusiasts concerned about modern farming and the environment, the Foundation first offered the course in 2007. According to Ms Carol Fung, present functionary of the programme, the course will introduce organic cultivation knowledge and agritourism resources including rural culture, farm ecology and agricultural production.
“We arrange theory classes on Wednesday nights and practice classes on Sundays,” Ms Fung said. “It was not easy to attend every class because many of the students had to work even at night. But they [former students] were quite satisfied with what they had learned from the course.”
The course is registered as a reimbursable course under Continuing Education Fund, which means qualified students can get 80 per cent of the tuition back after they reach certain standards.
After passing the course performance evaluation, a certificate will be given to each student proving he or she has the basic qualification to be a guide in agritourism activities.
A representative of Produce Green Foundation development office explained the use of the certificate, “it is not an official guide licence issued by the government. However, practitioners in the tourism or agriculture industries, teachers and social workers who have earned this certificate will find it advantageous to their work, or their job hunting if they are unemployed.”
“We are banking on opening a fall curriculum this year if the spring courses are well-received,” Ms Fung said. “We hope more and more people can enroll in this kind of courses and therefore, be more aware of the relationship between human activities and the environment.”
Besides that, Hong Kong Organic Farming Association and hktraveler. com Limited will jointly hold a similar course called Professional Certificate in Organic Farming Tourism this summer.
Mr Lam Chai Gwai, former student of this course, wrote after she had finished the course that “cultivation is far more difficult than I imagined. There were lots to learn. For example, the appropriate time to seed, the right kind of earth should be used, effective ways to fertilise and to deal with pests. Being an employable farmer is no easier than going to university.”
Being educated to be pillars, no matter present or future, of the society, we have been learning to develop modern expertise in languages, computer technology, and interpersonal communication, among others. But agriculture is left behind by most of us and is naturally on the wane.
However, in recent years, with the growing concerns for sustainable development and further awareness of environmental protection, people are eager to step back to earth. Different from ecotourism, agritourism is “an enterprise at a working farm, ranch or agriculture plant conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates income for the owner” as American Farm Bureau puts it.
According to Hong Kong Ecotourism & Travels Professional Training Centre, organic farming tourism models can be categorised into three major kinds, for instance tourist farms like strawberry orchard, tea garden and lychee orchard; agricultural parks that combine agricultural production, consumption and leisure tour as one; and, finally, educational farms like Produce Green Foundation farm.
Despite the fact that agritourism in Hong Kong is not as well-developed as in European countries, government and many NGOs are making efforts to stress the need for more care about the environment.
Edited by Adrian Wan Chun-ho