Ngo Thi Mui, 50, in Ha Noi s Mai Dich Ward grows 7 polystyrene boxes of different sorts of vegetables. "My aim at first was to grow enough my four-month grandchild but later I planted between 12-15 boxes to supply our entire six-member family," she says.
"We can grow the vegetables anywhere, including roof-tops, corridors, and even inside the house.
"There are many kinds of vegetables but sprouting beet is the most easy to grow. We can harvest it after only a week," Mui says.
"The vegetables are tastier and we don t have to worry about the chemicals and hygiene. We re totally in control."
Mui isn t the only one. Many of her neighbours have also cottoned onto the idea and planted vegetables in polystyrene boxes on their property.
"Gardening is also a really sociable activity," Mui s neighbour Van 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 VND5,000 (US$0.28) to 15,000 (US$0.84) per package."
Nguyen Phuoc Tan, director of the Mam Xanh Ltd Company that is one of main suppliers of the Metro, Big C and Co-op Mart network, said sprouting vegetables are a rather new concept for Vietnamese consumers but as they are high in nutrition, safe and clean, they ve won the trust of many.
"Now we can t meet increasing demands," said Tan.
A variety of websites on budding veggies such as webtretho and lamchame, have been set up to help Tan s company meet increasing demand, by guiding people how to grow vegetables. These websites have attracted thousands of people.
Young housewife Nguyen Thi Huong says she has joined several forums as she wants to provide organic and safe vegetables for her two children.
According to research by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, rau mam is very easy to grow without the use of pesticides.
Recent scientific research shows that 200 grammes of sprouting vegetables supplies nutrition equal to 500 grammes of normal greens.
"Sprouting vegetables have vitamins C, B and carotin A, and vitamin E is particularly abundant. Eating such vegetables can prevent cancer," a researcher from the ministry says.
The green-fingered trend isn t restricted to older people either, with many young people getting in on the action. Among them is Phuong Linh, a student at the National University of Economics. Linh 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."
After struggling a bit with their veg patch at first, now Linh 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 can risk damaging the building."
They may be healthier, but home-grown vegetables do have some negatives, housewife Ly Thi Nga from Ha Noi s Kim Nguu Street 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," Nga says.
With no chemical deterrents, defending your crops from pests can be a big problem too, she adds. "We have to deal with mice and insects but these things aren t enough to put us off."
Having your veg garden or boxes can have other benefits besides food safety, according to Nga. "I just find it really relaxing," she says. "When I m stressed out, 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," Nga adds. "It doesn t take up much of my time, so I like to do it very much."
Agriculture expert and author of Growing Clean Vegetables Without Land project Dr Ho Huu An recognises the growing popularity of organic sprouting vegetables. "The problem is knowing whether these products adhere to standards set by FAO, WHO and Viet Nam s Health Ministry," he says.
Any vegetables that want to be described as safe should be tested for quality at a State agency, he adds. "Many organisations and individuals who have come to me for advice on how to grow organic budding vegetables have proved successful." VNS