From Urban Jungle to Toyau
They farm what they eat, make what they use and love what they have.
In Sheung Shui Wa Shan Tsuen,several young people have set up Toyau, a place where they can getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life, to explore nature. This is where they live and work and learn to get along with one another and with Mother Earth.
The inhabitants of Toyau farm, do carpentry, pottery and they draw.
“If we have guests, we will get up at 6 a.m. to start the day, for example,by cooking,” said Sum Wing-kiu, 26,a full-time member of Toyau responsible for ceramics.
In order to get soil suitable for pottery, they dig and process the earth.Then the clay is made into tableware for everyday use. They also pick up abandoned wood, making the bigger pieces into chairs, rice scoops and spoons, and use the smaller bits for firewood.
“We retrieve the wood before it’s sent to the landfills,” said Sum.
They varnish the wood work with a layer of oil to protect it.“Butcher stalls do not need to apply oil on their chopping boards because meat releases grease. But we are vegetarians, so we have to do this,” said Wu Ching-yi, 28,another full time member of Toyau responsible for drawing and food.
Their farm is next to their house.“We made the entrance shorter on purpose, so that everyone has to bow their heads when they enter,”Sum said.
The Toyau dwellers only farm what they need, without over burdening the land. They compost their kitchen waste, reuse water for wash-ing dishes where possible and use ash from the firewood for cooking.It is all part of their effort to use all their resources to the fullest extent.
“The purpose of composting is to let the land rest. When the land be-comes healthy again, we can grow more kinds of plants. We can make better use of the land that way” saidKung Ling-yin, 28, a farmer at Toyau.
The people of Toyau live a self-sufficient lifestyle by growing their own food and making their own tools. Even their paint brushes and pigments are made of wood, bamboo and earth from their environment.
They once collected 100 discard-ed laminated boards from an exhibition and turned them into tables,chairs and cabinets. “We don’t want single-use resources but we recycle them in different ways, so they don’t end up in junkyards,” said Sum.
But making the switch to an alternative lifestyle was not easy. Sum tried to look for part-time jobs but found it hard to balance that with her life in Toyau. “I started to feel safe here because the others would be with me.We work and help each other, andthe division of labour is very good.
”What are the advantages of thislifestyle? For Sum, it is about baskingin the sun. In the past, she spent mostof her time indoors which made herweak. But living in Toyau means sheworks outdoors and eats healthily.
Their families and friends worryabout them sometimes, Sum said, be-cause this lifestyle is not common inHong Kong, and they parents doubtif they can make a living. But peoplewould often change their minds oncethey have visited Toyau to under-stand the joy of living at one with theenvironment.
The source of income at Toyau is from offering pottery and wood workclasses to the public. They also have food experience activities in which the food comes from their farm or from farmers who they agree with the way they treat their land. There are six to eight students in a class. They not only learn how to make things,but also how to find the materials they need, such as wood discarded from city development and soil from farmland. Admittedly, sometimes classes are cancelled because they do not get enough students.
Sometimes they get visitors who are enthusiastic about this lifestyle and would like to try it. But they find it hard to give up their current ways of life.
Ting Hoi-ning, a student in one of their classes, found their style fresh and inspiring.
“Everything here is natural and comfortable. It’s new to me because it makes me realise that there are still people living in this kind of lifestyle nowadays,” said Ting.
Environmental studies teach-er, Au Wai-han believes there are constraints for urban residents toFrom raw to finish: residents at Toyau make pottery from mud. adopt a green living style.“It is especially difficult for adults”, said Au, “because they think they deserve a more luxurious life if they can afford it.”
When she tries to promote an organic lifestyle at school, she finds that most students and colleagues would opt for convenience rather than protect the earth. For example,some would insist on turning on air-conditioners because they do want their class to be disturbed by the noise outside.
But she remains confident that students can learn to get along with nature through education. That’s why she continues to organise work-shops and campaigns for her students.The residents of Toyau agree with Au that education can help people understand the need for green living. “By holding classes and providing nature related experiences to participants, we are planting a seed in their hearts,” said Sum.
In Toyau, the living concept is that everything comes from the earth and is closely linked to our lives in an inseparable cycle: soil with clay,clay turns into utensils, utensils can contain food, and food, in turn, comes from the soil.
We are still learning subtle things such as stop eating once we are full,”Sum said. “If one day we cannot run Toyau anymore, I don’t think it would be due to financial problems,but working here can be tiring,” she explained.