Meeting Korean Farmers Was My Dream

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I participated in the International Strategy Center’s farming exposure trip from September 5th to 6th. We went to Seunggok village in Sangju, North Gyeongsang province, where rice, apples, pears, and peppers are all cultivated in environmentally-friendly ways.

I am an exchange student from Japan attending Sungkonghoe University. I majored in peace studies during graduate school in Japan before entering Sungkonghoe’s Masters in Inter-Asian NGO Studies (MAINS) program in Korea. I majored in horticulture in college so I am very interested in agriculture, garden design, permaculture, plants and food. The graduate school I attended was unique because all students studied organic farming practice along with peace studies; there was a farm within the campus where all the students could practice organic farming, cultivate vegetables, and learn how agriculture affects the environment.

In 2006, the Law on Promotion of Organic Agriculture was enacted in Japan, an encouraging event for farmers who had practiced environmentally-friendly agricultural methods for people and nature. After the  earthquake and ensuing nuclear disaster in Fukushima of March 2011, people realized the preciousness of daily life, and began reflecting on their lives. Since the area near the Fukushima nuclear plant was rich in agricultural products, we started to examine how our choices in food and environment affect our bodies. Above all, we need to collect wisdom from beyond our national borders to deal with the challenges ahead: how to keep food safe to sustain people’s lives and how to make connections among food producers, consumers, and the environment.

It is hard to explain in words how moved I was by the farming trip. The farmers I met were really wonderful. Korean farmers have suffered severely since FTAs began to take effect in 2012. Yet they have never lost their hope and continue working to educate people about the value of protecting agriculture and food, while working to build sustainable rural communities based on organic farming. Although farmers are suffering from unjust policies, they continuously make an effort to learn about new ideas and solutions from small farmers in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand.

During the trip, we helped cut weeds out in a rice field; because the weeds spread their seeds before harvest, the rice paddies need to be weeded. It can be hard to distinguish weeds from rice grass due to their similar look. Watching everyone holding scythes and cutting weeds with great care was like looking at a masterpiece. Though we went through only a part of the rice cultivation process, it was still a valuable experience on how food is produced and the effort invested.

And the trip was more than working in the farm. After dinner, we drank, ate, and spoke with the people who had preserved the 400+ year-old Korean traditional house (hanok) where we were staying. Thanks to interpretation by ISC staff, we were able to interact with people in the village. I was thrilled that I could go to this place and meet the kind of people that I have always dreamed of.

I don’t think that we helped the farmers that much, since we were there for only one night and two days. I, however, received a lot from them. The smells, sounds, feels, tastes I experienced from weeding, unwrapping bags of apples, picking pears, and roasting and dripping coffee; the exhaustion I felt from working; and the warmth from people surrounded me with comfort. Above all, I cannot forget their smiles; from their tender and gentle smiles, I could tell that their actions are derived from neither rage nor money; rather, I understood their noble mission as food producers - to create happy lives.

Food is a nexus where people meet nature. And, food reveals the culture in which it is produced. Through the trip, I reflected on becoming a person who can educate others on how food should be produced, on an agriculture that benefits humans and the environment, and on the value of agriculture and food.

I wish the invisible richness that I got from this trip goes on next time. Someday, when my Korean is better, I would like to visit Seunggok village again to meet and talk with the farmers again. I am grateful that I experienced such a wonderful place and met people that has become like my hometown in Korea. I was lucky to  join this trip.

written by Ai Shimada, MAINS[ref]Ai Shimada is a Japanese student at Sungkonghoe University’s Master’s in Inter-Asian NGO Studies.[/ref] (Inter-Asian NGO Relations, Sungkonghoe University)