Imagine a cosy farmhouse in the middle of the forest. Kids are running around and digging in the soil, gathering the vegetables for their lunch and having a great time doing so. It’s not exactly a typical weekend for kids in Hong Kong, but it’s the sight that greets us at Ark Eden, a non-profit environmental education center on Lantau Island.
Ark Eden founder Jenny Quinton hopes to bring Hong Kong kids closer to nature on a regular basis and impress on them the urgency of environmental conservation. At her Lantau farmhouse, kids and adults alike get hands-on experience in farming, zero-waste practices, and sustainability practices such as tree-planting, learning about permaculture and how it can make the world a better place.
“Permaculture is a system of design that copies natural systems,” explains Quinton. “We look at systems for living, for building, for food, energy, trees, water, waste. There are also three main ethics of permaculture: care for the planet, care for people, and fair share. If everything follows the ethics and principals based on nature, then the world would be a perfect place. It’s about cooperation, not competition; integration rather than segregation.”
The former ESF school teacher quit her job to set up the Ark Eden charity in 2009 with a mission to turn Lantau Island into a world-class natural environmental wonder. By creating inspiring educational and eco-tourism programs for children and adults, Quinton and her team hope to spread the word about the island’s unique ecological, geographical and cultural heritage.
“Lantau is a national treasure that needs to be preserved for China,” says the environmentalist. “
It is 250 million years old and the second oldest island in China. It has every single ecosystem and we need to get a grip and think in the next 10 to 20 years how we can be resilient.
Today, Quinton and her team work with more than 50 educational institutions from kindergartens to universities, and dozens of corporations. Her objective has expanded beyond Lantau. As Quinton watches Hong Kong mired in the “brown economy,” she is working to help turn the Hong Kong ship around towards a greener future.
“We don’t realise what an amazing place Hong Kong is,” says Quinton. “We have everything here. We have the urban and we have this incredible nature. We have big mountains and big rivers and deer, owls, buffalo, pink dolphins, finless porpoises. The fish are even coming back to the sea because they stopped the trawling.”
“But the way we are living now is not real, it’s a bubble. We have the highest statistics in the world in terms of waste and energy problems and we are still very much stuck in the old way of doing things — the brown economy. Building incinerators and bridges and developing islands. It’s the wrong path. The green economy is the way to go and in terms of that, we are nowhere near what is happening in Europe and the US.”
By reaching out to individual children and their parents, to students at progressive schools and employees at powerful companies, Quinton hopes to quietly start a green revolution from Ark Eden.
“It’s a hidden curriculum that we have here. We do overtly talk about permaculture a little bit, but the most important thing is to get people outside because you only get the concept of it, of how it all clicks, when you are in nature itself. What we do outdoors is what will affect people.”
“We want to encourage people to take big steps. There is work to be done within your office, your organization, and your community. People have to take a stand against the government’s environmental policies because right now it’s a small boys’ club and they don’t care about the people.”
Ark Eden runs on a highly limited number of staff and volunteers, so they have a low capacity each week. The farmhouse is fully booked until the end of the year, but they will now take reservations for 2016.
For private parties, Ark Eden requires a minimum of 15 to 20 people. Depending on the season, Ark Eden’s program can include farming, a visit to the tree planting site, studying sustainable and zero waste practices within the farmhouse, netting in the stream, a swim in the natural pool, a vegetarian eco-barbecue, night hikes, and campfires.
The cost is $400 for kids and $650 for adults for bed and breakfast, with extra fees for special requests.
The cost is for eco day camps $400 for kids and $650 for adults. For holiday camps for children and corporate programs, check with www.arkedenonlantau.com, (+852) 9277 4025
How to go there: daily ferries from Cenral pier No 6 at Man Kwong; from Discovery Bay; from Peng Chau www.td.gov.hk/en/transport_in_hong_kong