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SUPPORT LOCAL: COMMON FARMS

With co-founder and urban farmer, Jessica Fong

In our second episode of the Lane Crawford podcast, our Head of Content, Christel, chats with Jessica Fong, one of the founders of Common Farms, a small business that is innovating what indoor or urban farming is in Hong Kong.


Common Farms is arguably Hong Kong’s top local source for specialty produce, meaning they grow and sell micro greens, edible flowers, seeds, grow kits and more. You might find Common Farms’ produce in dishes at places like neo-Parisian bistro Belon, contemporary British restaurant Roganic, Giando’s Italian restaurant and bar, SoHo staple Ho Lee Fook, in the concoctions of matcha mavens Matcha-Li, as well as the kitchens of various notable private chefs.

Listen to episode 2 of our podcast above, or read the transcript of it below, to discover how the trio came to the decision to sow some seeds to see what they could reap.

CHRISTEL: 你好 Jessica。

JESSICA: 你好。

CHRISTEL: 歡迎來到連卡佛播客。

JESSICA: 謝謝。

CHRISTEL: 我先來介紹一下 Jessica,好讓大家知道我和她的深厚友情。

JESSICA: 我正在回想我們相識的時間。

CHRISTEL: 但我們相識已久了。我記得多年前,我們初次在巴黎相遇,然後當我初次抵達香港時我們又偶遇,距今也已好久。請你詳細講述一下,好讓聽眾們了解你是如何前往巴黎的,然後你如何……

CHRISTEL: Jessica,介紹一下你自己。你是誰?

JESSICA: 我長話短說。我盡量長話短說,我們是在我住在巴黎的時候相識的。我當時正在巴黎學習。

CHRISTEL: 你當時在學什麼呢?

JESSICA: 我當時正在讀商科雙學位,主攻通訊。同時我也曾在時裝領域學習和工作過,因為我想我需要接觸商務領域,但我專門來到巴黎想涉足時裝界。但幾年之後我發現時裝界並不適合我,我喜歡上了建築。然後我爸爸讓我回到香港,我便回到了香港。而我去巴黎是我對我媽媽讓我去加拿大的反抗,我說“不,因為這是你讓我去做的。” 而去英國是因為香港學生太多了,我覺得我的才能會被埋沒,而我不希望這樣。去澳洲的原因也是如此,但美國是我真正想去的地方,但我就是想去巴黎生活。因為我們小時候爸爸曾帶我們去過巴黎,那裡是我很喜歡的一座歐洲城市。我當時心裡想,我一定要在那裡生活。

但讓我驚訝的是,我爸爸說:“聽我說,我支持你去巴黎,因為我希望你能了解更多的文化。” 就這樣我去巴黎待了一年,本打算待一年,結果待了四年。

CHRISTEL: 巴黎就是巴黎。

JESSICA: 嗯。

CHRISTEL: 那麼,當你回到香港後做了什麼? 只是想知道你是如何開始從事……

JESSICA: 我還是……我現在仍不知道我在做什麼。可能我有點畫地為牢,但我仍不知道哪些是未知的。但在我回來之後,我覺得很多人並不知道這一點,但我真心想幫助我爸爸的製造公司,因此我常常來到中國。而當企業面臨破產時,我……我回來後非常迷茫。 我覺得我要進入公司幫助我爸爸,因為我年輕氣盛,充滿活力,我學到了很多。我有大學學歷,所以我會進入公司,我知道我一定會的。當我不知道我在做什麼或我想去哪裡的時候,你要知道,我心中積怨甚多,非常沮喪和焦慮,百感交集。

這些情緒很難克服,而如果你的父母是很傳統的中國人,更為如此。但幸運的是,他們給了我很多空間讓我決定我想做的事,讓我自己去面對我會犯的錯誤。

我想很多人以為我會回來,好像我有一個銀行賬戶等着我去花。真的不是這樣的,我回來了,我甚至不知道我家庭面臨着多麼大的經濟問題。正是因為這些原因我心中積了很多怨恨。而你知道,要想戰勝這些情緒,只有試圖解決所有問題。逐一發現並解決問題。這基本就是過去幾年我的狀態。和我爸爸一起工作讓我意識到那並不是我想做的,那不是我能夠帶來價值的工作,也不是我的興趣所在。但我想,改善我和他關係的理想方式便是從中抽身。然後我進入了餐飲業,對此我想每個人……

CHRISTEL: Hi Jessica!

JESSICA: Hey!

CHRISTEL: Welcome to the Lane Crawford podcast.

JESSICA: Thank you so much.

CHRISTEL: So, let me start by introducing Jessica and just letting you all know that I’ve known her for quite a long time.

JESSICA: I was trying to think when.

I remember we first met in Paris many years ago, and then we met again quite randomly in Hong Kong when I first arrived. So, if you can fill in and let anyone who’s listening know how you got to Paris and then how you kind of like –

CHRISTEL: Who are you, Jess? Who are you?

JESSICA: I’ll try to keep it short, but we met in Paris because I was living in Paris. I was studying in Paris then.

CHRISTEL: What were you studying at the time?

JESSICA: I was doing a double in business and communications with intention. I was studying and working in fashion as well, because I was like, “Oh I need to deal with the business component”. I was intentionally in Paris and wanting to work towards fashion. And then it wasn’t for me after, I think, a couple of years of that. Then I fell in love with architecture. My dad then pulled me back and that’s when I ended up in Hong Kong. Paris was because I was in my rebellious years and my mum told me to go to Canada, and I was like, “No! Because you told me to do that.” And then with the UK, because the population of Hong Kong students is just immense, I felt like I was going to be a small fish in a big pond – I did not want to do that. Same thing with Australia. The US was the only place I was really going to go to but I wanted to live in Paris because when we were younger, my dad took us there and it was my favourite European city. I was like, “I’ll just live there.”

And surprisingly enough my dad said, “You know what? I’m going to support you for that because I want you to gather more culture.” So, I went there for a year – well, intended a year, and it turned out to be four years. That was that, and Paris is great.

CHRISTEL: Paris is Paris.

JESSICA: Yeah.

CHRISTEL: So, when you moved back to Hong Kong, where did your path take you? Just to set up the backdrop of how you started coming from –

JESSICA: I still – well, I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I still don’t know what I don’t know. When I came back – I think most people don’t know this – it was with the intention to help my dad with his manufacturing business, so I ended up in China a lot. And the business was about to go bankrupt and it did…

I was so lost when I came back. I thought I was going to come in and help my dad and, you know, because you’re young and you’re dynamic and I had learned so much, I had graduated from college. So, I was going to come in, I knew what I was going to do; when I really didn’t know what I was doing or where I wanted to go. There was a lot of resentment, frustration and anxiety – just everything combined.

And it was really hard to navigate through it, especially when your parents are more traditional Chinese. But they did, to their credit, give me a lot of room to decide what I wanted to do. And it was for me to make the mistakes that I needed to make.

I think a lot of people thought I was coming back, that I had a bank account waiting for me to spend. I really didn’t have that. I didn’t even realise how much financial trouble my family was in. So… you build a lot of resilience through it. The only way to survive was trying to move through all the shit. Dig through and strip it one by one. That’s kind of where the past few years have been. So, working with my dad made me realise that’s not what I wanted to do, and that’s not where I can bring the most value. It’s not where my interest is at. But I think the best way of moving forward for my relationship with him was to remove myself. Then, I kind of ended up in the restaurant business, which I think everyone –

[00:05:00]

CHRISTEL: 我想說,在我在巴黎認識你的短暫時間裡,這並沒有讓我感到驚奇。

JESSICA: 是的。

CHRISTEL: 美食就像商品。

JESSICA: 是的,沒錯。我把我的生活費都花在品嘗美食上面。我的生活費都花在去米芝蓮餐廳吃飯上,一餐要花 200 歐元,等於 2000 到 3000 港幣。你知道,這可不能算作大學伙食,是吧? 但我覺得這個錢花得值。我從中找到了我認為值得的價值定位,即使到了月底我會跟我媽媽說,“媽媽!媽媽,我還需要錢。” 不管怎麼說,我進入了餐飲業,我想每個人都曾在某個時刻幻想過開一家餐廳。但這也讓我收獲了很多我認為我喜歡做的事情,那就是設計,是設計中的建築這個領域。為人們的活動創造空間,簡單地放置一把椅子便能產生變化。而餐飲業隻是我喜歡的領域,因為我在歐洲的時候我通過美食開闊了眼界。而這需要很多我在和我爸爸一起工作時學到的項目管理技能,因為我當時主要負責產品開發。你要知道,當你管理產品生產時,有很多重疊之處

因此我有所涉獵,並學到了很多。這會讓人更加謙遜,這是我意識到我擁有的品質。

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我很幸運地生在一個我一天都不需要工作的家庭,直到大學畢業後我意識到我確實需要工作,因為我們失去了那種經濟保障。因此我仍然不知道我當時在做什麼,從下到上我從未做過任何工作。

這就像破繭成蝶。所以,我離開了發號施令、無論對錯的管理層,從事餐飲服務行業一年半之久。一切都像是天賜的。你懂我的意思嗎?

而且說實話,你知道嗎,我什麼都不懂。我需要從零開始,而從零開始我負擔得起嗎? 我能應對我的身份所帶來的焦慮嗎?

CHRISTEL: 嗯。

JESSICA: 諸如此類的一切。

CHRISTEL: 這是一個需要捫心自問的、很難很大的問題。

JESSICA: 是的。

CHRISTEL: 然後開始慢慢解決這個問題。那麼,再詳細地講一講從那以後你的經歷以及你意識到也許你需要嘗試這樣做的感受。聊聊這個吧。

JESSICA: 嗯,旅行很有幫助。我經常旅行。你知道,事實上當我和我爸爸工作時我真的很幸運。我開始尋找自己的客戶,能夠自己賺錢。基本上我賺的所有錢都用於按照我喜歡的方式旅行了。所以,那是我頭一次能夠自主決定如何花錢。而不知怎地,旅行讓我對了解別人的文化和生活非常著迷。你知道,新鮮事物會讓人感到驚奇。我所說的旅行並不是度假。也不是做背包客。而是做我想做的事,用一種舒服的方式探索世界。旅行必須是去做你想做的事,並讓你願意再次出發。因此,餐飲業的工作給了我經常去歐洲旅行、參觀農場、發現美味的機會,這是在一座或多座大都市長大所未曾擁有的經歷。

CHRISTEL: 沒錯。依我看,我想你跟我很像,你已經習慣於去超市購物和精美的包裝,而你從未親眼見過種植、收獲、挑選、包裝、清洗、擦干這些食物的人們手上的泥土。

JESSICA: 旅行必須是去做你想做的事,並讓你願意再次出發。因此,餐飲業的工作給了我經常去歐洲旅行、參觀農場、發現美味的機會,這是在一座或多座大都市長大所未曾擁有的經歷。

[00:05:00]

CHRISTEL: I mean, that does not surprise me even in the short time that I knew you in Paris.

JESSICA: Yeah.

CHRISTEL: Food was like… a thing.

JESSICA: I’d spend my allowance on food. I was spending my allowance on Michelin restaurants, and that was two hundred euros, like, two thousand, three thousand dollars a meal. You know, that’s not really a college meal, right? But that was what I thought was worth spending on. It gave me that value proposition that I thought was worth paying for, even though by the end of the month I was like, “Mom! Wire me more money.” Anyway, so I got into the restaurant business because I think I was just fantasising about opening a restaurant. But it also took in a lot of things that I thought I enjoyed or I thought I liked which was, you know, designing – the architecture part of it. Creating space for people to behave in, and how that changes by even just putting a chair here. And then food was just something I loved because I did a lot of discovery through food when I was in Europe. And then it took on a lot of the project management skill set that I built from working with my dad, because I was doing a lot of product development. When you’re managing manufacturing, that kind of overlaps.

So I did that for a bit. I learned a lot. It built a lot of humility that I didn’t realise I didn’t have.

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I somehow always kept getting really lucky to be in a point of management, but it was the wrong place for me to be at. You know, from being so fortunate with my parents putting me in a place where I didn’t really have to work a day when I was growing up, until getting out of college and realising actually I do need to work because we don’t have that financial security. And so I never was doing anything from the bottom up. That’s why I never knew what work was. I think a level of me was thirsty for that.

It was just about doing the stripping down. After one and a half years of being in the F&B hospitality business where I was coming out of a place for management, and making decisions without any substance to back it up, and it was because I’m entitled in that way – you know what I mean?

And then coming to the real honesty of like, you know, you don’t know shit, Jess. You need to just go back to basics. And can I even afford to go back to basic? Can I deal with my own anxiety of, you know, my identity?

CHRISTEL: Yes.

JESSICA: You know, all of that stuff.

CHRISTEL: That’s tough. Big questions to be able to ask yourself.

JESSICA: Yeah.

CHRISTEL: And then to start stepping into that, you know? So, tell me a little bit more about your journey from there and realising, “Okay maybe I need to try doing this sort of thing.” Tell me about that bit.

JESSICA: So, travelling helped a lot. I was travelling a lot. You know, I actually got really lucky when I was working with my dad. I started finding my own clients and I was able to make my own money. I basically spent all of it on travelling – the way I wanted to travel. That was the first time that I was able to make decisions on how I wanted to spend my money. And somehow it was on travelling. I got addicted to learning about other people’s culture and seeing how they behave. When I say travelling, it’s not going to resorts. It’s also not backpacking. It was just what I wanted to do, it was a level of discovery in a very comfortable manner. I think that’s quite important that travelling doesn’t have to be a specific way. It just has to be what you love to do and what makes you want to get back on the road and travel again. So, through working in the F&B industry, I was travelling a lot to Europe for the farms and the discovery of flavours and textures that I never had growing up in a metropolitan city or multiple metropolitan cities.

CHRISTEL: Yes. I guess maybe you’re kind of like me where you’re used to going to the supermarket and everything is beautifully packaged, and you’ll never see the dirt on the hands of the people who grew this, and harvested this, and chose it, and packed it, and washed it, and cleaned it and whatnot for you.

[00:10:00]

JESSICA: 是的。

CHRISTEL: 那麼,你能詳細地談一談你在這些方面有什麼發現呢?

JESSICA: 我還很幸運每隔幾個月便能夠回到意大利。我們會開車深入工廠和農場,了解他們的工作情況。還有我那時的商業合作伙伴,其實也是我的老板。他向我展現了對某件事有熱情會有何表現以及這樣的熱情能到何種程度。我覺得嗯,有點意思。而他確實有這樣的熱情。

因此有一個人能夠允許你犯錯,創造廣闊的探索空間,這一點很重要。

我的事業便由此開始了……我發現,天呀,蕃茄竟然如此美味嗎? 我們常說應季,那麼到底什麼是應季? 什麼時候算是應季? 當時我對所有這些問題以及雜貨店、餐廳以外的其它事情一概不知。我對這些工作肅然起敬,驚訝到無以言表,而我還可以發現人才。我覺得我能夠與農民們合作,也想成為像他們一樣的人。我想和他們一起工作。我的余生都想向他們學習。我的內心好似燃起了火花。而我想,我如何才能成為那樣的人? 我渴求更多,因此當我四處探尋時,我開始鼓勵自己多提問題,保持好奇心。

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然後我和 Common Farms 的共同創始人——我們自小學便是朋友——做了大量的研究。而 Preston 和 Ariana——我很久沒有和他們聯繫了,因為我們一起在香港長大,但我搬到了上海和巴黎—— 他們在埃及和埃塞俄比亞也做了研究。我們不知不覺地在 2016 年團聚了。我們對這一行業都非常感興趣,但我們……我們都在城市裡長大。因此雖然我們不知道這種好奇心能夠將我們帶到哪裡,但我們可以試一試,看看結果如何。我們做研究、尋找食材,但問題卻越來越多。我們覺得所有問題都沒有確切的答案,只能自己探索,親身實踐。

因此我們同心協力。我們不能走出去籌集資金,因為我們的想法很可能會失敗,我們在農業或種植業亦沒有可信度。在那之前我甚至從未種過能活一個月的植物。這是鐵一般的事實,對吧? 你有什麼能力竟然想要建造一個農場、賣其中種植的東西?我看了看我的銀行賬戶。我能買得起什麼? 我們能買下哪個地方? 起初我們計劃在中國實現我們的想法,因為我們覺得中國的市場更加廣闊,空間充足……所有我們需要的因素立刻湧入腦海。就好像所有問題的答案都可以在中國解決。我想起了我爸爸。我知道他有一片閒置的土地,起初本打算在上面建造一家工廠。後來由於許多經濟問題他決定放棄了。因此我給他打了個電話,我說,“喂爸爸,你的這片土地,你認為我能在上面建造一個農場嗎?” 電話那邊沉默了,你知道嗎,然後他用粵語說,“你在講什麼啊?” 你要知道,在中國人的心目中,尤其在共產主義者的眼中,從事農耕和農業是落後的象徵。所以,即使跟我的祖父或祖母談起這件事,她會說,“為什麼呢?”

CHRISTEL: 好像你要在田裡工作。

JESSICA: 是的,你為什麼想要這樣做呢? 我問我爸爸,他說,“不行,你到底在說什麼呢?” 而我說,“不、不。我飛到上海,參觀了一家農場。事情有所進展,就像促成一件事所需的所有待辦事項一樣,除了場地和土地以外,我基本上完成了所有準備工作。那麼,你覺得這件事會不會成功呢?” 他說,“不會。”

[00:10:00]

JESSICA: Yeah.

CHRISTEL: Tell me a bit more about your discovery of that side of things?

JESSICA: I was also really fortunate to be able to go back to Italy every few months. And then we’d just drive through and go to the producers, the farmers, and hear the way they talk about what they do. My business partner at that time – and also my boss, really – showed me what passion about something looks like and what it means, and to what extent. So, I was like, “Oh that’s kind of interesting.” He showed me the way.

Having someone there to give you the permission to make mistakes, and then creating the safe space to discover is immense.

And that was where I was like, “Oh my God, tomatoes taste like this?” You hear ‘seasonality’. What is seasonality? When is seasonality? Having all of these things, and the continuation past the grocery store. Past a restaurant was beyond me at that point. I was in so much awe, I was speechless. And also identifying the people that I could work with, like farmers – I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be with them. I want to learn from them for the rest of my life. It was the starting spark of that. And I was like, “Okay how do I be that?” It was in search of more. When you’re seeking, you start allowing yourself to ask those questions and start to be curious in a specific way.

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Then it was just doing a bunch of research. My co-founders from Common Farms, we were childhood friends since elementary. Preston and Ariana – I hadn’t really been in touch with them for a while because we grew up in Hong Kong together, but I moved to Shanghai and Paris, and they did their own thing in Egypt and Ethiopia. And then we somehow came back together in 2016. We were curious about all this, but all of us grew up in the city. We had no idea what that curiosity meant, so we thought, why don’t we try and let it marinate? Let’s do research, let’s see what we can gather. But we just had more and more questions. Nothing really had a solid answer to it, so the only way was that you had to go in and do it yourself.

We tried to put it together. It’s also not something we can go out there and get funding for because it’s probably going to fail and we had no credibility to be in agriculture or growing plants. I had never even grown a plant at that point that I could keep alive for a month. This is a true fact, right? So, who were we to even consider building a farm and selling food from it? I was looking at my bank account. What could I afford? Where could we afford it? Initially, the plan was to do it in China because it just felt like the market was more vast, and space and all the immediate things kind of jumped in on what we needed. It felt like the answers were all in China.

So, I called on my dad. I knew he had an idle piece of land that he was initially going to build a factory on. And then he decided not to due to a lot of financial reasons. I called him and said, “Hey Dad, you know, you have this land. Do you think I can build a farm on it?” And then it was silence. And he said, in Cantonese, kind of like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” Because in the Chinese mentality, especially with, you know, the communist approach to thinking about farming and agriculture, it was a really backward thing to do. Even talking to my grandparents or grandmother about it, she was like, “Why?”

CHRISTEL: Like it’s over. You’re working in the field.

JESSICA: Yeah, why are you even considering that? So, I asked my dad. He was like, “No, what the fuck are you talking about?” I was like, “No, no, no. I flew to Shanghai, I checked out this farm. Things add up. Like the checklist that they had to make it work, I basically have all of it except for the space and land. So, what do you think about coming through with it?” He said no.

[00:15:00]

CHRISTEL: 直言不諱。

JESSICA: 是的,他根本不願意考慮一下。然後我說道,“求求你花兩分鐘時間給當地政府官員打個電話。看看有沒有可能。” 他說,“好吧,行。” 我給他回電話,他根本沒有打電話,因為他以為我在開玩笑。沒有人把我當作一回事。但是之後,政府表示,“嗯事實上,我們正在認真考慮這件事。” 因為當時,中國的五年計劃與農業和科技、環境、環保息息相關,它涉及方方面面。我爸爸一分鐘之後給我回了電話,說“喂,他們同意了,我們什麼時候建造農場呢?” 然後我說道,“天啊,我不知道怎麼建農場。” 就這樣,從那時起我們開始計算成本、着手準備,我們……一時間我不知所措,我以為我不能在你的土地上建農場。我們開始梳理我們了解到的和我們能夠獲取的情況、我們能夠利用的資源,然後費盡心思又回到了香港,租了一片我能支付得起的小地方開始實驗。

但在整個過程中,我很心急,沒有耐心,於是我買來了土壤、種子和花盆親手種植。我一開始種的是番茄,當我看到一點新綠時,我知道我成功了。我當時心想,“這就是我的命運”,這就好像過聖誕節一樣,每天早上我醒來後走到陽台查看我的蔬菜,大自然就是這樣神奇。

那是 2016 年底、2017 年初,當時我只能買下一家小型零售店。那家店鋪好像一家長洲上的糖果店。提起長洲是因為我的共同創始人 Preston,他當時每天負責管理和照料那些植物,他就住在長洲。我們考慮過他居住的位置和店鋪的位置,二者必須緊緊相鄰。

關於我們如何找到這個地方也有一個故事。一天上午,我們幾乎走遍了整個長洲。我們找到了兩個地方,因為島上的房地產經紀人並不出售商業用地……

CHRISTEL: 你說的地方是指土地還是字面意義上的…… JESSICA: 字面意義上的……

CHRISTEL: 倉庫……

JESSICA: 就是一個沒有人會趕走我的地方。因為我會支付房租,不是嗎? 但我已做好了來者不拒的打算——廢棄的學校、荒廢的地皮,我不知道,什麼都行。我說的地方意思是哪裡我都接受。就這樣,我們去了一家家房產中介,他們都嘲笑我們。他們覺得根本沒有人會來尋找商業用地。我們就這樣逐家逐戶地尋找。我們心裡想,我們誰也不認識。人們都說許多當地人掌握着土地的所有權。

Preston 當時居住在長洲的外國人聚集區,因此他並不擁有房產。我們就這樣漫無目的地走着。我們中有一個小伙子正在島上四處閒逛,找到了一個掛在大門上的硬紙板。上面寫着一個電話號碼和姓氏。這個結果再好不過了。就這樣,我們隻找到了兩個地方,一個已經出租,另一個便是我們租下的地方。

CHRISTEL: 嗯。那裡便是頭一個地方?

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JESSICA: 那便是我們找到的地方,一切從零開始,我們打算用更經濟的方式建立農場。那可真的是親手鋸木頭。但還蠻有趣的,因為我從來都沒體驗過。在城市裡長大的我們總是追求更便捷、更迅速、更高效、更廉價的方式。

在 Common Farms 農場,我們採取的經營理念剛好與之相反。從中我們獲得了成就感。你知道,我們沒有……我像是註冊了一家公司,但是你知道……我不好意思說“是的,我經營着一家農場。” 這麼說既令人不可思議,又有些奇怪,但只有當我能夠正視我的農場的時候,別人也才會如此。因此,當我們有了……當時我們甚至都不知道我們要種什麼。現在回想起來,我們甚至都沒有資質涉足農業並進行規劃。老實說,我們甚至都不知道去哪裡買種子。我們當時不知道我們現在出售的沙律菜苗是什麼。我們不知道可食用花是什麼,有了 YouTube、Google,我們甚至都不想付費學習課程。我們只花錢上了一門課。

[00:15:00]

CHRISTEL: Straight up.

JESSICA: He didn’t want to entertain it. And then I said, “Please just take two minutes, call the local government officials. See what the potentials are.” He said, “Fine.” I called him back, and he hadn’t done it because he thought I was joking. No one took me seriously! Until the government actually came back and said, “Yeah, you know, we’re actually really into this.” At that time, China’s five-year plan had a lot to do with agriculture and technology, the environment and going green, and [the farm] checklisted all of that. My dad called me back a minute later. “Hey they said yes, so when are we building the farm?” I was like, “Oh, fuck I actually don’t know how to build a farm!”

And so, that was when we started looking at the costs, what it needed. I was so overwhelmed. I then realised that I couldn’t do it at his space. So then we just started stripping down on what we knew, what we could have access to, what we could leverage on. And we ended up all the way back in Hong Kong. We said, let’s rent a small space that we can actually afford and just try it out.

Throughout that process I was just so eager and so impatient. I went and bought soil, bought seeds, bought a tray and started growing. The first plant I grew was tomato. And when I saw the speck of green, it was done. This is my destiny. At that point it became Christmas Day every morning when I was waking up to go to the balcony to check out the plant. Nature is just amazing in its way.

That was the end of 2016, beginning of 2017, when all I could afford was a small retail space. It was a tuck shop space on Cheung Chau island. The reason behind Cheung Chau was that Preston, my co-founder, was going to be managing the plant and the daily caretaking. He lives on Cheung Chau, and we thought that where he was or where the space was needed to be really close by.

There is also a story on how we found the space. We literally walked around the whole island one morning. We found two spaces because the realtors on the island don’t do commercial –

CHRISTEL: When you say space, do you mean land or literal, like –

JESSICA: Literally –

CHRISTEL: A warehouse, an empty –

JESSICA: Literally space that no one’s going to kick me out of! Because I’m paying some kind of rent, right? I was ready to take, I don't know, anything – an abandoned school, an abandoned plot of land. I was ready to take anything. We went to these real estate agent offices and they just laughed at us. They told me that no one actually comes to look at commercial space and to just go and ask the neighbours. We were like, “What the fuck? We don’t know anyone.” They were talking about the fact that all the ownerships belonged to a lot of the locals.

Preston was more in the expat community of Cheung Chau, so he didn’t really have access to that at that point. So, we literally walked around. One of the guys told us, “Just walk around the city, look for the cardboard that’s hanging out on the gate with a phone number and a last name. That’s your best-case scenario.” We only found two. One was already in the process of being rented, the second was the one we took.

CHRISTEL: Right. And that was the first plot?

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JESSICA: That was where we plotted ourselves. We built everything from scratch because the intention was to look at what the cheapest way to build a farm was. But it was fun. I’d never had that experience. When you’re growing up in a city, everything is about the easiest, fastest, most efficient way, the cheapest way to do it. Everything we chose to do for Common Farms was that. But there was a sense of accomplishment from it.

I registered us as a company but I was so embarrassed to say, “Yeah, I have a business in farming.” Still now it’s kind of weird to say it, but until I start taking it seriously, no one else will. We didn’t even know what we were going to grow at that point. Thinking back on it, we had no right to even consider getting into agriculture. Honestly, we didn’t even know where to buy seeds. We didn’t know what microgreens were, which is what we sell. We didn’t know what edible flowers were, and it was just like YouTube, Google, and we didn’t even want to pay for courses. We paid for one!

[00:20:00]

CHRISTEL: 我想說,是的,這就是現在互聯網的魅力。

JESSICA: 是的。

CHRISTEL: 那麼你們上的那堂課是什麼?

JESSICA: 我們確實選了一堂課,好像是 Rooftop Republic 的一個入門課程。Rooftop Republic 是我們現在合作非常愉快的公司,我們也嘗試與不同的人合作。但你知道,有趣的是我們報名了一個課程,但我們不想讓所有人花錢去上課。他們有三個周末的課程,那就是三個單獨的……

CHRISTEL: 所以你們每個人各上一節課。

JESSICA: 是的,我們輪流上課。一個人負責記筆記,然後和大家分享。為學習相關理論我們就花過這麼一次錢。基本上一切都靠免費的 YouTube 和 Google。我們不知道哪裡來的勇氣。現在想想真可笑。

CHRISTEL: 厲害,厲害。這很了不起。真的令人佩服。你們把想法付諸行動,這是更高程度的熱愛。

JESSICA: 我想我逐漸明白了一點,鼓勵自己問問題,或別人鼓勵自己問問題,這就是現在我率領我自己團隊的方式。現在,做決定的不僅是我。如今,我能夠根據公司的發展、團隊在為 Common Farms 效力以後能夠獲得哪些經驗來做出決策—— 也就是他們在 Common Farms 之後的發展。所以,我覺得我們有這樣的環境……提供犯錯誤的空間,但這真的是一個學習的過程。

CHRISTEL: 我想說,當你以前和 Harry 散步的時候我問過 Katie,“和 Jessica 一起工作感覺怎樣?” 她說,“還不錯,只是我們都非常忙碌。”

JESSICA: 是的,他們一刻也不停歇。

CHRISTEL: 沒錯,但是你一直在說允許犯錯誤,她曾說過一句話,你並沒有聽到,你沒有聽見,但是她說過,

只有犯錯誤我們才會學到東西,因為我們這裡沒有標準。我們並沒有任何固定的規則或什麼的,只有通過犯錯誤我們才能從中學到更多。但親身實踐和看到 Instagram 或其它什麼上面的語錄是兩回事。

而你將這個道理清晰地傳達給了你的團隊。因此,你做得很好。

JESSICA: 是的,我覺得這很……很難,因為在許多企業、甚至是小公司裡我們並不習慣於這樣做,當我和我爸爸工作時,我對此總是很叛逆。我有時會無緣無故地叛逆,但我覺得既然有更好的方式,那我何不試一試呢? 我不喜歡聽到別人對我說“不行”。

CHRISTEL: 沒錯。

JESSICA: 我嘗試為團隊提供自由決策的空間,我一直採取的一個方法也是我的主要原則,那就是屏蔽所有的噪聲、人聲和意見。我很討厭別人對某件事情有先入為主的態度——“我們一直是這樣做的,我們曾經是這樣做的。” 拋棄所有外界的聲音,看到事情的本質,然後從此出發,決定我們前進的方向。這是我在個人生活和職業生涯中始終參考的一個簡單的天秤,而從我們習以為常的方式進行過渡是很難的。但我必須允許每個人,包括我自己,這樣去做,進行嘗試。即使是我們的顧客,我也會說,也許你不喜歡這個,但誰知道呢,試一試吧。 CHRISTEL: 沒錯。

JESSICA: 就像是四處探索。

CHRISTEL: 確實如此,可以簡單地談一談你創建的 Common Farms 所涉及的領域嗎? 你們種了什麼? 你們現在種的是什麼?

JESSICA: 嗯……現在我們已經擴大了規模。我們的農場從種植沙律菜苗開始,頭一次豐收的時候我感到非常自豪。我把這些蔬菜帶到中環的不同商店,逐家逐戶敲門。我以為會有半數的人想要訂貨,但是沒有人這樣。

然後我回到農場,研究我們能做的其它方式。現在我們種植草本植物、可食用花、沙律菜苗,我們還開始種一些小的根類蔬菜,比如水蘿蔔,我們現在還嘗試種植蕪菁。

我們還打算在城市內種植農產品。我們並不局限於固定的模式,而是試圖為植物的生長創造合適的自然環境。說實話,現在的室內種植不是……是我們在香港的不二之選。

但如果我們在其它地方起家,我們會評估……

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[00:20:00]

CHRISTEL: That’s the beauty of the internet now. That’s kind of the point.

JESSICA: Yeah.

CHRISTEL: So, what was the one course that you did take?

JESSICA: We did take an intro course by Rooftop Republic who are people that we actually love working with now and are trying to do a lot of different collaborations with. It’s funny because we signed up for one course, but we didn’t want to pay for all of us to go. They had three weekends –

CHRISTEL: So you went to one each.

JESSICA: Yeah, so we took turns going. You were held accountable for taking whatever fucking notes and you had to just share it. That was the only thing we paid for in terms of learning. Everything was literally YouTube and Google, and we wouldn’t pay for it. That was what somehow gave us enough courage to start it. I mean, it’s laughable thinking about it now.

CHRISTEL: No, that’s awesome. That’s so cool. This is what you can do with a question and a desire to take that question to the next level, right?

JESSICA: I think that one thing I’ve come to realise is giving yourself the permission to ask those questions. Or, having someone give you the permission for that, which is how I approach it with my own team now when I’m thinking about leadership. Now, it’s beyond just me making decisions. Now I can make decisions thinking of what the consequences are, and what may be the rewards for the team beyond them just working for Common Farms. It’s like what it’s going to be post-Common Farms for them as well.

I think it’s giving the space to make “mistakes”, but they’re just really learning processes.

CHRISTEL: I asked Katie when you were walking around, “What’s it like working with Jess?” She said, “It’s okay, you know, she’s really busy...”

JESSICA: Yeah, they don’t stop.

CHRISTEL: Yeah, but you know how you keep speaking about permission to make mistakes – one thing that she said – and you weren’t in earshot – but she said,

You know, we learn the most through making mistakes because we have no baseline here. We don’t have any established processes or anything. So, the mistakes are where we learn what better to do the most, of course.” But to experience that yourself is very different from reading a quote on Instagram or whatever about it.

I think that you clearly imparted that on your team.

JESSICA: It’s hard because we’re not used to it in a lot of corporate structures – even in small companies. I was just always rebellious, even when I was working with my dad. I would just rebel for the sake of it sometimes. But it was more like, when something feels like there’s a better way to do it, can I not try? And when I’m told, “No”, I don’t like that.

CHRISTEL: Yeah.

JESSICA: I try to offer the space for the team to consider the alternatives, and one approach that I’ve been really honing in on is the first principle approach; which is basically stripping away all the noise, narratives, and opinions. Something that I really hate is, “Because we’ve always done it this way, and we are used to doing it this way.” Stripping away all of that and looking at the core of what we know – that’s the starting point. You know, to figuring out where we want to go. It’s been a really simple equation that I’ve been trying to approach in my personal life and business life. It’s a really hard transition to make from where a lot of us are used to, but I need to provide everyone including myself the permission to do that and just try it out. Even for our customers it’s like, “Hey, you might hate this, but I don’t know. Just, here’s some. Try it out.”

CHRISTEL: Yes.

JESSICA: Like play around with it.

CHRISTEL: Totally. So just to touch briefly upon what Common Farms does in terms of what do you provide? What do you grow? What are you growing right now?

JESSICA: So, right now we’ve expanded. It started off with microgreens, and on our first harvest I was so proud! I started bringing them to Central to different chefs and knocking on their doors. I thought, we’ll get half of them wanting to order. No one wanted to order it.

And then we went back and looked at how we can approach it differently. Now we do herbs, edible flowers, microgreens, and we started some baby rooted vegetables like radish. And we’re trying turnip now.

We’re growing produce in an urban space. We try not to fixate on a specific system, but instead try to create the right environment for nature and for the plants to thrive. Honestly, growing indoors right now – it’s the best option we have in Hong Kong.

But had we started somewhere else, we would just evaluate what the –

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[00:25:00]

CHRISTEL: 蔬菜的適應性。

JESSICA: 是的,我們應該為它們提供適宜的環境。但我們注重種植的方式如何能夠提高營養價值、改善味道和口感,以及保證蔬菜的原汁原味,因為我們從商店買到的蔬菜淡而無味,我們不得不要添加更多的風味。因此,就連我的口味也發生了變化。我在家做飯的時候,我會放很少的鹽、很少的糖,事實上我甚至都不放……

CHRISTEL: 我的口味很重,主要是因為生活在這裡。我覺得在澳洲,街邊便有養牛場,耕種的面積也更大,我們很幸運。而當我搬到這裡,我的口味也改變了。所以當我們去參觀香港仔的 Common Farms 時,我感到非常驚訝,那裡的蔬菜味道非常美味。

JESSICA: 那就是你吃過的東西——你認出來了,就好像是思鄉之情,回憶起了美好的事物。你舌頭的某個部位受到了刺激,你不由得感嘆“哇。” 這就是我在四處旅行、去不同的地方、嘗試用純樸的方式種植更為傳統的農作物時的感受,就像是從地上摘下來直接品嘗一樣,幾乎未經加工。在香港這座城市中,由於浪費、儲藏以及較遠距離的運輸,我們的食物常常會過度加工。

因此,我們只想簡單地種植蔬菜,為人們提供不同的選擇。現在我們的計劃是這樣的,但希望有一天我們能夠擴大規模,為所有人提供這樣的選擇。我們希望讓自己種植蔬菜這件事變得更加容易,普及大眾。因為當我們起家時,我們非常害怕,我們不知道怎麼做,這樣做可以嗎?

最近我意識到這就像學習法語,

沒有什麼是絕對的。總有其它選擇,凡事沒有絕對。視情況而定,你知道嗎? 這就是植物,你必須隨時觀察,保持耐心。在觀察我們的蔬菜時,我對謙虛、耐心以及抗逆性深有感觸。

我們還希望制定一本經驗手冊,我們希望免費提供給大家,使其成為公共資源。我們花費了很長時間才獲得我們現在的成就,而且這始終會是一個不斷前進的過程。不斷嘗試,不斷犯錯。但如果從建立公司這樣長遠的角度看,我覺得也是這樣的,我們總是尋求為我們的合作伙伴帶來更多的價值。無論是我們的顧客、供應商、自己的團隊,或是任何人、我們的實習生、我們工作坊的成員、邀請的嘉賓等等。除了向他們索取,我們是否還能提供更多? 然後為他們提供空間和能力獲得靈感,嘗試不同的事情。

CHRISTEL: 你太厲害了,很厲害。太厲害了。

JESSICA: 工作量很大,但我想這是一個開端。

CHRISTEL: 嗯,非常感謝你真誠地分享你的故事,非常鼓舞人心。非常……我為你感到驕傲。很棒很棒。

JESSICA: 噢,謝謝。這麼多年來你見証了我的成長,所以你這麼說對我而言非同尋常。

CHRISTEL: 希望我們能與大家分享你的故事,讓人們探索自己的潛力。非常感謝你來到我們的播客。分享精彩的故事。

[00:25:00]

CHRISTEL: And you would adapt.

JESSICA: Yeah, and we should adapt to what is best for [the plants]. The approach is how do we grow things for the best nutritional value, and for taste, texture, and how things should actually be tasting like? Things are so bland these days when we get it from the shop, or we have to add in so much flavour to it. Even my own palate has changed. When I’m cooking at home now I put minimal salt and minimal sugar. Actually, I don’t even use –

CHRISTEL: I’m the saltiest person ever, and it was mostly from being here actually. Coming from Australia, we’re so lucky to have cows, you know, “down the street” and a lot more farming space. Obviously, when I moved my palate changed, too. So, that’s why when we first visited Common Farms here in Aberdeen I said, “Wow this is amazing. This is what things taste like.”

JESSICA: They’re things that you’ve tasted before, I think. You start recognising things, and there’s some nostalgia and memories that come back. It hits a certain part of your tongue and you’re like, “Oh wow.” And that was what I got when I was travelling and going to different places and trying more, maybe, traditional crops in the simplest form. It’s just grabbing it from the ground and trying it, with the least amount of processing as well.

In Hong Kong, in a city, because of wastage and because of storage, because things are travelling really far, our food a lot of times is over-processed.

We want to just simply produce things that can offer people an alternative option. We’re starting with these kinds of plans right now, but hopefully one day we’ll be able to expand it in a way where it allows for everyone to have that access. We want to make growing your own produce very un-intimidating as well, and more accessible. Because when we started, it’s scary because like I don’t know what the fuck to do... but what about this?

Recently it made me realise it’s like learning French.

Nothing is absolute. There’s always an alternative and ‘it depends’. It depends, you know? With plants, you just have to observe and be patient with it. I learned a lot of humility, patience and resilience from just observing our plants.

We also want to make sure we can somehow create a playbook of what has been working for us, so we can offer it as freely as possible to give people the opportunity to do it themselves. We want to make it open-source. What we do is going to take a long time to get there, and it’s always constantly going to be a work in progress. Constant trial and error. But if we’re thinking of it as building a company in the long term, I think that’s the way to approach it.

We always look at how we can bring more value to whoever we’re in contact with. Let it be our customer, our suppliers, our own team, our interns, anyone we’re doing a workshop for, anyone we’re inviting in. How can we bring more to them instead of asking of them? And then just giving them the space or empowering them to be inspired, to think of different things to do.

CHRISTEL: You’re awesome! So good.

JESSICA: It’s a lot of work but I think it’s a start.

CHRISTEL: Well, thank you so much for being so candid and so sharing, and really inspirational.

JESSICA: Oh, thank you. It means a lot when you say that because you’ve seen me grow through the years.

CHRISTEL: Hopefully we can share your story a little bit and get people interested in what they themselves can do.

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2020-07-29 00:04:00.0