In Hong Kong's urban jungle, one of mankind's most basic skills is largely unknown. Millions of today's city dwellers go through life untaught and unaware of what it takes to raise crops and grow their own food.
They may be environmentally aware and well up on issues such as climate change, but in practice they may not have any feel for the land or experience of working with the rhythms of nature.
Ricoh Hong Kong initiated a special scheme last November, encouraging staff to go "back to the soil". As part of a long-term commitment to promoting green themes and related education, the company decided to rent six plots of land at the YMCA Tung Chung Green Organic Farm, where employees plus their friends and families can now grow their own fruit and vegetables.
"Anyone is free to join in, but they must make a commitment to take care of the plants during the year," says Wilma Wong, senior manager for marketing communications for Ricoh Hong Kong.
"We arranged at the start for the YMCA farm to conduct workshops on the principles of organic farming, planting techniques and the right tools to use. Now, six groups of staff from different departments are responsible for the overall management of the land, though we also have a task force to oversee things and provide practical advice and any necessary support."
The idea came about as a logical extension of the company's plan to boost understanding of environmental issues and inspire action among employees. Since last year, this has become a corporate priority, with the phrase "Green is our DNA" adopted as a slogan.
The full scope of initiatives includes everything from new energy-saving products to recycling projects, finding supply chain efficiencies and cutting down waste. To back this up, senior management has set an aggressive long-term goal to reduce the impact of the group's carbon dioxide emissions. The target is to achieve a more than 80 per cent cut by 2050 from the level in 2000.
It became clear, though, as the team refined its concepts and plan of action, that there was a risk of being perhaps too office-based and scientific.
"We also wanted to do something that could help staff learn how to work with the natural environment," Wong says. "By growing vegetables, they have a chance to get exercise and to stay healthy by eating organic food."
An internal roster details who will look after each plot from week to week. Individuals take their turn digging, sowing, tending seedlings and spreading fertiliser. Every harvest is shared around, allowing everyone a fresh supply of cabbage, lettuce, cherry tomatoes or whatever else is in season.
Eva Kwok, who works for the firm's marketing and business development department, has regularly spent a couple of hours at the farm on Sundays, often taking friends or family along.
"It is a great activity for us all," she says. "I have been able to learn about organic farming, crop rotation and what to plant in different seasons. I enjoy the day out and feel healthier as well."
There are plans to extend the programme by renting more farmland
Customers may be included to spread the message about organic growing and a healthy life
The company organises staff visits to recycling plants and the eco-park in Tuen Mun