Viewed from its tallest towers, Hong Kong is an endless expanse of concrete that stretches for hundreds of kilometers. Paradoxically, it is surrounded by nature, even though we hardly feel it when we are in the city. The density of the city has made many of its inhabitants ignorant of the potential of shared spaces and urban life. For years, the rooftops of Hong Kong have been abandoned or occupied by illegal squatter settlements, due to the lack of regulations from the building authorities in Hong Kong. One example was this empty and open rooftop at an old industrial building in Ngau Tau Kok, Kwun Tong, one of the most densely populated districts and largest industrial areas in Hong Kong. Inspired from a trip to Sweden where he first saw and tasted organic honey, Michael Leung returned to Hong Kong in January 2010 and took over the building’s rooftop, where he has a design studio, and began raising bees for their honey.

He wanted to bridge the disconnect between city and nature, and bees were a good choice. “It’s great to have bees in the city. They help pollinate the flowers in the city and they pollinate a third of our food.”
Explaining why he started beekeeping on his rooftop, Michael said: “The lack of green spaces in the city and the fact that it’s unclear where food actually comes from. We talk about honey, but what we are really talking about is local food”.
 Michael’s bee farm is located on the rooftop of this
building in Ngau Tau Kok, Kwun Tong , where he also has a design studio.
Bees are good for the city because the not only pollinate
our flowers but a third of our food, says Michael
Michael believes that city dwellers today are oblivious to the origins of food and hopes to educate people of the importance of buying locally produced food. The self-proclaimed urban beekeeper started off with two wooden beehives which he bought from a bee keeper in the New Territories, but has since turned his project into an organization, HK Honey, which promotes the value of local food through urban beekeeping and art and design initiatives.
The project has also shown people how dead urban spaces can be brought alive, and also brought nature back into the city. A high-density environment is not necessarily a problem, but has the potential for new kind of spaces. In fact, Michael’s dream is to transform the rooftop into an urban oasis where people can have a connection with the city, food, nature, bees and honey.
“Going on the rooftop, and having a break from urban distractions in the city,” that’s how Michael describes it.
Michael started with two beehives and has since increased it to six.
He hopes the build a network of bee farms in time to come. 
Besides bees, Michael also grows crops on his rooftop,
and will be opening a café soon.

Currently, his rooftop urban bee farm has six beehives painted in bright colours of green and yellow placed against a bright yellow background. Mobile wooden planter boxes of organic herbs such as rosemary, basil and lemon balm mint also accompany the beehives. In the works, is also a HK Honey café.

“The goal is to introduce local honey through a creative medium,” he says.

One of the biggest challenges so far is getting the public to accept bees in their city, says Michael. Contrary to the popular belief that bees sting people, Chinese bees are very calm and peaceful creatures, he says.

To prove his point, Michael opened one of the beehives, which can each house about 10,000 bees, to show what’s inside. On a bright sunny afternoon, the bees buzz around enjoying the weather, he says, and they “dance like stars” amidst the background of grey skyscrapers.

The people of Hong Kong are warming up to living with bees, in fact, the demand for local honey is now more than Michael can produce alone. He has begun collaborating with other design studios and cafes all over Hong Kong to build a network of bee farms. One collaborator is Sunny, a chef who owns an organic café in the popular shopping district of Causeway Bay.

He is learning the techniques of urban beekeeping from Michael in the hope that he can eventually serve his customers organic honey straight from his rooftop farm, which already has organic vegetables.

If HK Honey is successful in introducing nature into the city on a wider scale, the view of Hong Kong from its tallest towers in the future could be a sea of green instead of the grey drab today.

Besides bees, Michael also grows crops on his rooftop, and will be opening a café soon.
This story was originally published in FIVEFOOTWAY Volume 01, Issue 01 January 2012