Communal spirits signal hope of future
By Chung Ah-young
Two Korean city youths were thrown into schools in two very remote farming communities, one in the United States and the other in Korea. At first, the two old time friends resembled young urbanites lost in the countryside.
Lee Hwi-young entered Geochang High School in South Gyeongsang Province while Lucy Jiyoon Han was admitted to Thacher School in Ojai, Calif.
Geochang High School is renowned for its own unique mottos, which encourage students to “choose a guillotine, not a crown, do what your mother or spouse opposes, go where you probably won’t be promoted.” Meanwhile, at Thacher, freshmen are given a horse and are supposed to clear the stalls and feed the horse at six every morning and go to the bed at 10:30 p.m.
For the two, it was a new, shocking experience that changed their views on the world. Their new lives at the schools motivated them to extend interest in farming communities and chose to explore seven communities both in Korea and the U.S.
After experiencing and volunteering in the two respective farming communities over the past three years around Korea and the U.S., Han and Lee coauthored the book “Community, Food, Responsibility” published by Mind Printing.
Written in both Korean and English, they introduce seven different communities they visited in the two cultures to find hope for fixing the modern malaises. They met people who are hard at work to make the world a more livable place.
“We realized that they were primarily prompted by the desire to re-connect with people and to build real relationships. It was the desire to know one’s neighbor, to trust one another, and to share fellowship,” they wrote.
In most communities, economic success was not crucial to people’s sense of identity but the economic equation and the process of the economic activities in harmony with natural environment were the top priority.
In Korea, the two communities of Handemy and Togomi are examples of active engagement in building new farming communities. These are healthy and viable agricultural communities in times of rapid decline in agricultural population.
Located in Danyang, deep in the Mt. Sobaek in North Chungcheong Province, Handemy, along with Togomi in Gangwon Province, offers diverse programs for city dwellers to experience farming life and eco-friendly agriculture. The village was largely reactivated by Chung Moon-chan, a resident by birth who had moved to the city only to return to the village in 1978 to bring an active farming community. But after the failure of his business in breeding chickens, he left for Busan and then made a second return to the village in 1998. This time his efforts began to work.
He set off with a vision of creating an environmentally sustainable eco-village and began organic farming, devised programs that could create links between the city and the countryside. He began farming with the aid of mud snails in 2003 and within a few years, all the farmers in the village followed his method. Afterwards, his organic farming quickly became the norm in the village.
Sungmisan (Seongmisan) Village is a rare and unique case as it is located in the heart of Seoul. The village widely engages people who live in the neighborhood of Seongsan-dong, Seogyo-dong, and Mangwon-dong of Mapo-gu who have built a community of shared ideals.
They first gathered for communal childcare. This kind of cooperative childcare system was the very first of its kind back in 1994 in Korea. The communal child-care led to the creation of a school, cafe and even a clothing store. The village brought back the concept of the neighborhood which has been long forgotten in the city surrounded by apartment buildings due to unrestrained individualism.
Sanmaroo Farm of Love located in Buam-dong, central Seoul is another hope for city dwellers. It helps the homeless recuperate by enabling them to engage in such voluntary labor as growing potato, cabbage, radish, cucumber and tomato crops among many other vegetables in the area.
Turning eyes to the U.S., the authors visited the Amish community renowned for their old-fashioned customs in the face of the rapid changes of modern civilization. It is a deeply shared religious group living together to be true to their faith.
People in the community take it as their life’s commitment to live for their religion and for their community, resist all the advances of modernization. They don’t drive cars, don’t use electricity and don’t watch TV. They resist the culture of possessive individualism and consumer fetishism. Their main income derives from farming without using fertilizers or pesticides and instead only with environmentally-friendly farming practices.
Despite the old-fashioned lifestyle, the Amish, which is not about one ethnicity, are growing in number. The number of Amish in the U.S. and Canada was roughly around 165,000 in 2000, the number had grown to 227,000 in 2008 and 249,000 in 2010 as the majority of Amish youth decide to remain within their community to preserve the environment and peace.
The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the Ojai Valley in California is a similar enterprise with a different feel, showing that farmers have built coalitions with consumers and even restaurants to build a new culture and a new sense of co-ownership of the process of producing healthful and delicious fresh food at the local level.