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Vegetable gardens bring urbanites back to earth
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08:55, July 17, 2009

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Green finger syndrome is sweeping China's modern cities as more and more stressed out office workers seek solace by growing their own tomatoes and cabbages among the concrete high rises.

Here those urbanites with a penchant for a trowel and weeding are nicknamed "balcony farmers" for their efforts as they turn corners of their courtyard and high-rise dwellings into small plots of land.

Land owners in cities are catching onto the idea, with some leasing small strips of earth in the suburbs to city residents who then turn them into vegetable gardens.

In the suburbs of Nanhui, Fengxian and Jinshan in Shanghai, nearly 10 agriculture gardens are available to rent.

For most, however, the easiest way to realize their farming dream is with small boxes of earth on balconies and courtyards. Xiao Yuan, a microcomputer researcher in Chengdu, is such a "balcony farmer."

City dwellers working the land in Miyun county.

"I started growing my own veges after playing the popular online computer game Kaixin001 where people can buy seeds in virtual shops and seed them in their virtual gardens. If they want, they can steal vegetables from their neighbor's garden," Xiao said.

Unsatisfied with virtual weeding and ploughing, Xiao decided to use her "green fingers" in reality.

This spring, she bought a package of melon seeds and planted them in a plant box on her balcony.

She soon realized that growing her own vegetables was somewhat harder in real life.

She made many mistakes with her first crop of melons before realizing she must pollinate the seeds.

"Some of the melons failed and I was then told that melons need pollination. I used a cotton swab to help pollinate and successfully got a dozen fruits," she said.

Xiao is not alone in growing her own produce with 20 percent of her complex doing likewise.

However ambition is outgrowing balconies and more and more amateur gardeners are seeking larger spaces to grow their vegetables.

This has prompted the creation of agriculture gardens in recent years in the suburbs of many cities including Beijing and Nanjing.

According to Ma Sulin, the head of the Sunshine Experiencing Garden in Daxing District of Beijing, the number of gardeners seeking allotments has increased rapidly in the past 12 months from 150 tenants to 600.

Most are new to gardening but they are prepared to pay between 356 yuan($52.10) and 430 yuan ($62.90) a year to sow and reap vegetables from small plots of between 33 and 40 square meters.

"Some come to satisfy their curiosity in small scale agricultural farming and to set themselves free of the heavy pressure of the office during weekdays," Ma said.

"There is an abundance of fresh air and working on the land helps you forget all the worries from work as you think about why your cucumbers grow bigger or smaller than your neighbor's," she added.

The growing popularity of balcony farmers could also be a boon to the agricultural industry as urban farming helps foster a better understanding of rural life and may boost countryside tourism.

Children leaning about agricultural at Sunshine Experiencing-Garden.

Parents who take up gardening are also helping their children come closer to nature amid urban expansion.

"My three-year-old son loves coming down here to see the sunflower and peanut plants and play and help me garden in the fresh open air," said Wang Jiang who was working on his Sunshine Experience Garden plot.

This earthy complex also has a pond with ducks and fish and there are plans to built a restaurant in which the gardeners can prepare and eat their homegrown produce.

"In the future, we will hope to bring in more livestock and poultry for sightseeing, such as ducks, geese and cattle. The gardeners will help look after them and they will also be a draw for sightseers. After working on the land, they can fish in the pool and cook their results in the restaurant by themselves," Ma explained.

Yu Kongjian, dean and professor of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture at Peking University said such amateur urban agriculture was good therapy for stressed out office workers and their families.

"What the office workers want is a healthy living style away from the office, such gardens help all generations. The joy brought by labor and harvest also has educational benefits to the young generation and brings memories alive to the older generation," he said.

Source: Global Times

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