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VietNamNews

Urban rooftops yield green benefits

Update: March, 10/2015 - 08:10
Joyful work: Cultivating clean vegetables at home and taking care of them every day brings peace and happiness to many families living in big cities. — VNA/VNS Photos An Hieu

Many families are putting their rooftops to good use, growing pesticide-free vegetables that they enjoy eating. The joy of watching them grow is a bonus. Vuong Bach Lien climbs a few flights of stairs to tell the story.

Holding a one-kilogram cabbage she had just harvested from her garden on the top floor of her house in Ha Dong District, Ha Noi, Nguyen Thi Hoai Thu could not hide her joy.

"I planted this cabbage three months ago. Although it is smaller than those sold at the market, I am happy that I grew it myself. We now have a clean and safe cabbage that we can eat for three meals," she said, with a smile.

"It will make my daughters and husband happy because they love eating pesticide-free vegetables," Thu said.

"For a long time, I wanted to avoid buying fruit and vegetables from markets because they are often contaminated with overdose of pesticides and other chemicals that are harmful to the health."

Two years ago, the 65-year-old woman decided to make a garden on her top floor to provide clean and safe vegetables for her family. Fresh vegetables are an important part of the Vietnamese diet. Every meal contains at least two or three kinds of vegetable and herbs.

To meet the demand, farmers use a wide range of techniques, even abuse of fertilisers and pesticides to boost yields. Many farmers know little about the safe use of fertilisers and pesticides, leading to the contamination of the produce for sale.

But as consumer awareness grows, outlets supplying organically grown fruits and vegetables have started to appear throughout the bigger cities. The new middle class is opting for a healthier lifestyle, and does not mind paying a little extra for the privilege.

Many are choosing to become home market gardeners themselves to be 100 per cent sure that what they are eating is clean and safe. In the last few years, roof-top gardens have mushroomed in the nation's big cities.

Ten years ago, the family of Luong Duyen Tam, a retired researcher in Ha Noi, also begun to cultivate clean vegetables in their roof-top garden. "I am very sensitive to harmful chemical substances," Tam said.

"Every time I eat vegetables or fruits that are contaminated by growth stimulants, preservatives or pesticides, my body reacts immediately. I get a headache, stomach-ache or sore throat. The older I get, the more sensitive I become to these chemicals."

Tam started a garden on the roof of his house in Hoan Kiem District and has now started another in his new home in Vuong Thua Vu Street in Thanh Xuan District. At present, he has a 40sq.m garden filled with 60 styrofoam boxes where many kinds of vegetables are grown. The family is now almost self-sufficient in vegetables – and occasionally has enough to give to friends.

Watchful eyes: Tam's family spend several hours every day in their roof-top garden.

To prevent the rain from falling directly on the garden, Tam made a plastic transparent lean-to. According to him, it is important to prevent the vegetables from getting too wet, because this can rot their roots and attract insects.

"Since we began eating our own vegetables, we feel healthier. They are for me a wonderful remedy. It seems that even in modern times, diseases often come from food and drinking water," Tam said.

Other families have successfully grown their own fruits and bonsai in their city homes. Thu's family has planted papaya, carambolas and peach trees.

"Last year, I put the seed of the peach fruit in a styrofoam box in my garden and watched it quickly grow into a small tree," Thu said.

"I took care of it for the whole year, and this year, I didn't have to buy a peach tree to decorate the house. Everybody who comes to my house is surprised at the beauty of the tree. They say that I have green fingers," Thu said.

Bonsai roof gardens are also becoming popular in Ha Noi and HCM City. Taking advantage of unoccupied space on their rooftop terrace, some residents in HCM City have succeeded in creating bonsai gardens worth billions of dong.

The 60sq.m three-storey house of Dao Thanh's family in Tan Phu District in HCM City includes about 1,000 bonsai of different kinds. Some can cost up to VND20 million (US$1,000). The value of the whole bonsai garden is said to be around VND3-4 billion.

"We had to take good care of the plants every day for about three years before achieving this good result," Thanh said.

Thanh joked that he took better care of his bonsai than of his own children. "My children can eat and drink themselves, but if the bonsai are not often watered, and trimmed, they cannot grow well," he said.

The 50 year-old man created a pulley system to lift the trees to the rooftops. Cultivation for Thanh a hobby that helps him both relax and earn money.

According to the estimates of the Bonsai Association in HCM city, more than 100 people specialise in cultivating and selling bonsai grown on roofs-top.

With the development of rooftop gardens, several companies have been set up to guide families on what vegetables to grow and how to look after them on a low budget.

Relaxing activity

Most people find that working in their gardens helps them relax.

"Every morning when I get up, visiting the garden is one of my favourite habits," Tam said.

"What can be more agreeable than having a big green space on your roof that attract birds, butterflies and bees?

"However, to be honest, when you become a true gardener, you will find this landscape less romantic because those birds and butterflies can annoy you. Birds can peck the tomatoes but they eat worms that may destroy your garden."

For Thu, there is nothing more rewarding than sitting down at the end of a good day of working with her hands.

"Watching the sun set over a healthy, productive garden, and enjoying some freshly picked vegetables with my family is a great pleasure," she said.

Green cities

Rooftop gardens have been developed in many big cities around the world. They can be found in Singapore, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney and Montreal as well as in many US cities.

Tender care: Children get an early start in helping out.

Face with the rampant development and endless walls of concrete, keeping Ha Noi as green as posssible is the aim of many architects in Viet Nam, including Ha Noi's Vo Trong Nghia, known for his award-winning green-space projects.

"Creating a green house on a rooftop is quite simple. With a suitable layer of waterproof paint, and the smart choice of appropriate soil, you can easily bring vegetables and plants into your house," said Nghia.

"I hope that one day, authorities will decide that all newly built houses or restored houses must have a green terrace or rooftop," he said.

Nghia said the retention of rainwater on roofs could also help mitigate floods and help create greener cities as the old street trees started to die because of lack of sunlight. — VNS

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