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    Low on Fresh Supplies, Shanghai Residents Turn to Indoor Gardening

    City dwellers are getting their hands dirty amid difficulties in ensuring fresh produce.

    Vegetables have become prized possessions in locked-down Shanghai, and many residents are now determined to grow their own.

    Many Shanghai residents have started to plant produce in their kitchens or balconies in an attempt to achieve a degree of food self-sufficiency. Supply chain disruptions and limited delivery services amid an ongoing lockdown to contain the surge of COVID-19 have led to the city’s 25 million people scrambling to secure daily supplies over the past weeks.

    Han Bale, an accountant from the Pudong New Area, has been trapped inside her apartment since mid-March as part of the city’s targeted lockdowns before the citywide shutdown. When the 27-year-old saw the garlic in her kitchen sprouting, she thought of planting it in a plastic bottle using water and the nutrients she already had to help it grow.

    “It was like magic,” Han told Sixth Tone, referring to the progress.

    She has since planted other vegetables — including scallion, bean sprout, and lettuce — in her kitchen from scraps. Han reaped her first scallion harvest a week later and used her homegrown produce in a meat dish.

    “A small ingredient could make the difference in the whole eating experience,” Han said.

    Sales of vegetable seeds grew on e-commerce platform Taobao in the first quarter of 2022, while smart planters powered by vertical farming technologies saw a two-fold increase compared with the same period last year, according to domestic outlet Jiemian. Most of the orders came from big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou.

    Several online seed and smart planter merchants told Sixth Tone their businesses were “in good shape” this year. A seed wholesaler said tomato, lettuce, and cucumber seeds were among its best-selling products.

    Vegetable gardening isn’t a new idea in Shanghai, though a lack of space and urbanization have limited its scope. To encourage urban farming and add greenery to the city’s landscape, some companies have also initiated rooftop gardening in the past few years. 

    But some residents are only starting to adopt the idea as daily supplies dwindle amid a prolonged lockdown. A Shanghai resident, surnamed Yang, told Sixth Tone he has been experimenting with indoor gardening with some ups and downs.

    “The most fascinating part is to see those little changes on your plants day by day, as you feel the power of life and hope in that tiny existence,” said the 31-year-old advertising specialist, adding that watching online tutorials on the topic also serves as one of his pastimes.

    Chadwick Wang, an associate professor at Tsinghua University focusing on the sociology of science and technology, said taking up home farming amid the pandemic gives people a sense of control amid growing uncertainties, even if it’s not their main source of daily supplies. He added that while the pandemic may not boost the vertical farming industry, it could open new opportunities as more people have now shown interest.

    “Growing vegetables on balconies cannot fill one’s stomach entirely,” he told Sixth Tone, adding that it takes time and effort to achieve significant results. “The act of growing seems to be more important than actually eating them.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Seedlings of romaine lettuce flourish in a grow box at a resident’s home in Shanghai, April 6, 2022. Courtesy of Chen Ying)