Citizens worried about high levels of pesti-cides and bacteria in vegetables are taking food safety into their own hands by planting their own organic vegetable patches.
They may look healthy and delicious but vegetables bought at the market can harbour invisible threats, Ta Thuy Hien, a housewife in Hai Ba Trung District says. “A bad dose of food poisoning left my son in a critical condition after he ate some water morning glory we bought at the market.” That was in 2005, Hien says. Since then she has cultivated a 10sq.m patch of land outside her house where she grows salad vegetables like basil, lettuce, onions and malabar nightshade.
“The vegetables are tastier and we don’t have to worry about the chemicals and hygiene. We are totally in control.”
Hien isn’t the only one. Many of her neighbours have also cottoned onto the idea and planted vegetables in polystyrene boxes on the top floor of their house.
“Gardening is also a really sociable activity,” Hien says. “People in the community often get together to share growing tips.”
Personal vegetable patches are springing up all over the city, a shopkeeper who sells vegetable seeds says. “People know it’s one of the best ways of avoiding food poisoning,” she says. “The best-sellers are quick-growing plants like water morning glory, field cabbage, white cabbage and cress. Prices range from VND3,000 to 10,000 per package.”
The green-fingered trend isn’t restricted to older people either, as many university students and school pupils are getting in on the action. Among them is Thanh Huong, a student at the IT University. Huong insists that although looking after a vegetable patch can be hard work, it’s definitely worth the effort. “Whenever my friends come to visit, I always give them a couple of fresh lettuces as a gift,” she says. “It’s something special because I know they are safe and very delicious.”
Before Huong started growing her own she had to walk 10km from her house in Tu Liem District to buy greens at the market in Long Bien Ward. “But even then my mother wasn’t sure if they were clean or not. We’re not really sure if there’s anywhere in the city where you can buy safe veg.”
After struggling a bit with their veg patch at first, now Huong says she and her family rarely have to go to the market. “You should plant the veggies carefully though,” she adds, “if you are careless you could risk damaging the building.”
They may be healthier, but home-grown vegetables do have set-backs, a student at Ha Noi University Thanh Tu says. “Sometimes organic produce doesn’t look as good as the goods at the market. They can be misshapen and small. My tomatoes are the size of marbles,” she adds.
With no chemical deterrents, defending your crops from pests can be a big problem too, Huong says. “We have to deal with mice and insects but these things aren’t enough to put us off.”
Having your veg garden can have other benefits besides food safety, according to Quynh Lan from the National Economics University. “I just find it really relaxing,” she says. “When I’m stressed out about my studies all I have to do is take a trip up to the top of our building and get the watering can out. Being among the growing plants really helps to ease my mind.” It’s rewarding to watch new buds and fruit develop,” Lan adds. “It doesn’t take up much of my time so my parents really encourage me to do it.”
Agriculture expert and author of Growing Clean Vegetables Without Land project Dr Ho Huu An recognises the growing popularity of organic vegetables. “The problem is knowing whether these products adhere to standards set by FAO, WHO and the Viet Nam’s Health Ministry,” he says.
Any vegetables wanted to be recognised as safe should be tested for quality at a State agency in charge of safe vegetables, he adds. “Many organisations and individuals who have come to me for advice on how to grow organic vegetables have won success.” Eating organic vegetables is a growing trend, An says. — VNS