Making Magic (Well, Growing It)

Making Magic (Well, Growing It)

Aching for fresh, organic veggies delivered to your door with a new low-waste approach? Check out Magic Season Organics

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Foodie  Foodie Your Guide to Good Taste  on 9 Apr '18

Meet Magic Season Organics, an organic veggie delivery box service. This family-owned and -operated organic farm is based in Qingyuan, Guangdong, and 2018 marks their 15th year in organic farming. During those 15 years, they’ve maintained their goal of always growing 100%-chemical-free vegetables.

This year, they are combining organic vegetables and zero waste. This means no more plastic packaging for all home-delivery customers as well as maintaining their commitment to zero chemical residuals in their vegetables. Although the strive to become lower waste comes with plenty of complications, we’re always excited to hear about companies re-organising to reduce single-use plastic and other packaging and making the logistically difficult alterations that will hopefully inspire other businesses to make changes within their own operations. 

We got the full scoop from Alvin Kwong, son of founders Raymond and Becky Kwong, who works alongside his parents and siblings to keep their original ethos in place, continually progressing towards a brighter future. 

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Have you seen a demand from consumers for not only organic veg but also reduced plastic within Hong Kong? 

The demand for chemical-free food is definitely on the rise. People of all walks of life turn to organic food for various reasons. We find many come to us after just having had their first child or if they are battling a specific illness. We also have a growing number of customers who heard something on the news and are looking to minimise the amount of toxins they are putting into their body. Plastic pollution is not a new agenda item and, for many, it’s a daily struggle. Since day one, customers asked about delivering without plastic. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s exciting that we are finally ready. 

Are there other farms doing what you’re doing here?

There are certainly farms in Hong Kong that deliver without plastic. It’s an ideal situation when your farm is so close to the customers. Of course, running a small farm in Hong Kong is not without its challenges. Back in Canada, I used to order vegetables from a company called Spud, and they would simply throw everything into a Rubbermaid bin with no plastic and no cardboard. I haven’t seen anyone in Hong Kong do this at scale. 

How difficult has it been to incorporate a less-waste approach into your business?

It’s been a gradual shift for us from the traditional plastic packaging delivery to a plastic-free one. The challenges we had were from two areas. First is simply that checking all vegetables at our warehouse is incredibly time-consuming and our team and warehouse were not ready for the extra workload. As our customer base continues to grow, it is a challenge to keep up. 

Second is due to the way we handle the last mile delivery. When the vegetables are not protected in plastic, they lose their moisture much faster. The result is that customers’ vegetables will look substantially more dry than if they are delivered with plastic. Here, we had to find ways to protect the vegetables with paper and also educate customers on how to refresh vegetables with cold water before eating. We have had some customers who requested plastic free but ultimately wanted to switch back to plastic. Image title

What sets you apart from other farms and veggie delivery services within Hong Kong?

From a farm perspective, the best way to sell your products is via a subscription – regular deliveries made to the same customers every week. The challenge you run into (we continue to struggle with this too) is that customers want to have a large selection each week. While any weather condition allows for a bunch of different vegetables, it is just not possible for one farm to grow everything. It’s not even possible for a few farms in one area to grow everything. It’s just not how seasons work. 

A collective needs to have farms from different regions in order to keep the, say, carrots flowing for a customer who juices carrots every day. Hong Kong is a tricky place to grow. The weather for most of the year is too hot and fields are rampant with pests. Only dedicated farmers can grow truly chemical-free vegetables, and those who do so do not have the time for sales. Production is just too small to bring in partners. It’s why we love to see platforms like Jou Sun who are helping to connect farmers to customers. Our farm guarantees everything is 100% chemical free – a standard we’ve maintained for 15 years. You are right that because we are significantly larger, we have larger yields. Did you know we grow around 30 types of vegetables at any given time? It’s an attempt to offer customers a large selection. We are different because our subscribers can customise their box every week. Many of our customers have been to our farm and many more have met with us. We are completely transparent about what we do, and that is something not many large farms can, or are willing to, do. We are also different because we are solving real problems for our customers. 

For people who are hesitant about farms in China, how can we help to dispel the myths that have been created?

China has a bad rap. I get that. I have my biases towards some Chinese products too. But China is a massive place. To dismiss all Chinese vegetables just means your diet will be void of vegetables, unless you go imported. Here’s the thing though – the quality of vegetables from any farm anywhere depends on one thing: the integrity of the farmer. I don’t believe that all Chinese vegetables are bad, the same way I don‘t believe all vegetables from Europe are good.  

We spent two years looking for suitable farmland, and today we are situated at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere to ensure we have the best growing environment. The best way to overcome this bias is for people to talk to us, ask us questions and eventually try our vegetables. 

Some people simply cannot accept Chinese vegetables but are not aware that almost all high-end restaurants use the same suppliers. After all, 98% of all vegetables come from China. In this case, ignorance is a bliss. 

What does the certification your farm has earned mean? How often is it checked? 

Our certification form CNCA means that our vegetables are 100% chemical free. It means that they are annually tested for over 300 chemical pesticide residuals and seven heavy metal residuals. It means we have not failed the test – ever. 

Where did the land come from? 

Our land is rented on a 20-year lease. It belongs to over 80 villages, and my poor dad had to go in and negotiate with each and every one. I’m sure glad he did! 

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How do you manage the “driver waits for you” ethos?  

There are always going to be difficulties when doing deliveries. The question we ask is, What opportunities will we unlock if we change the way we deliver our products? That’s when it gets interesting. When we run a regular delivery, our customers will know that their vegetables will be downstairs at the same time every week. Consistency allows them to plan, and there are no interceptions during the day – no late deliveries and no missed deliveries. With the regular delivery, we can begin to eliminate single-use materials from our supply chain and offer unparalleled quality to our customers. 

Not only that, our customers are eager to bring recycling to us for recycling (ensuring it really gets recycled), and we can now start to work with recyclers to make cool things like clothing and pens for schools or corporates. Did you know that you can turn plastic into a shirt, wear it and then compost the shirt and turn it back into soil? How’s that for a circular economy? 

In addition to this, we are in discussion with a great local driving school who every year offer free driving licences to recovered addicts in Hong Kong. We are putting together a plan to offer work for them as drivers. 

The last thing I’ll mention here is that with a regular delivery, anything that is not picked up can be dropped off to NGOs we are working with. ImpactHK is a great charity helping homeless people in Hong Kong Kong to find work and get off the streets. Guess what this charity is looking for? Organic veggies! The benefits are endless. We think these difficulties are worth working out. 

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What’s your favourite season for veg? 

Winter. I love all the root vegetables from the farm and I love making soups. Nothing like a hot soup to warm up with on a cold winter day! I am often making Chinese soups at home. I love to drink them, but I also love all the different vegetables I can put in. Basically, you can’t go wrong. I encourage everyone to make broths at home! 

Magic Season Organics is for people who:

  1. Care about what they eat. There is just no way to know if the vegetables you eat every day are chemical free. Ordering direct from a farm is one way to ensure food safety. To this day, we have delivered our vegetables to over 2,000 happy customers since we started our home-delivery service in 2016.
  2. Care about the environment. 2,000kg of plastic are disposed into our landfills every day, most of which comes from household consumption – things WE buy! As a producer of vegetables (and garbage), we are taking a stand. No more plastic and styrofoam in our supply chain. Not only that, we will take clean bottles and return them to those who will recycle and turn them into fabrics for clothing. Really.
  3. Value convenience. Thousands of deliveries are made each day in Hong Kong.  Forget for a minute the waste this generates, but how about the time spent for customers communicating with drivers to arrange the delivery? Our concept is simple: the driver waits for you, not the other way around.

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