City agriculture sprouts in Korea

City agriculture sprouts in Korea

KOREA- Lee Yong-ja and Yoo Myung-sub are often seen on the street in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, covered in dirt, carrying gardening tools and plastic bags filled with lettuce and peppers from a hill behind their apartment.

"It's exciting that you can grow something edible, without having to worry about pesticides or feeling doubtful about its safety," said Lee, a 60-year-old housewife.

Frustrated by the numerous food scandals that have made the headlines in recent years, Koreans are taking matters into their own hands to keep their dinner tables safe.

The concept of urban gardening and locally grown food began gaining popularity in the mid-2000s, when gardens of various forms popped up across the country.

Lee and Yoo were among the pioneers of the so-called "weekend farms," unused land or rented farms cultivated by busy city dwellers.

The trailblazers were people farming for recreation and fresh produce during their spare time.

The boom coincided with the implementation of the five-day workweek, reduced from six days. People had more time to spend with their family members, preferably away from buildings and streets bustling with people.

It also helped that in 2005 the government revised the Agricultural Land Act to offer tax benefits and ease regulations for purchasing unused farms.

"When we first began cultivating vegetables, the hill was just a wasteland with a graveyard in it. Now, it's packed with gardens so that it's sort of like a small community of city farmers," Lee said.

Weekend farms were merely the beginning of a new era in urban agriculture in Korea.

People began planting crops under glass, and up on the roof, with some turning small spaces like balconies into farmable areas.

Like many city dwellers who are strapped for space, Kim Young-eun lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a small terrace in Seoul. But that hasn't stopped Kim from planting vegetables in her flat to grow safe food for her 2-year-old daughter.

Walking into her house, visitors can see green onions and herbs on the windowsill, and boxes of fresh lettuce, ready to be served. Kim said apartment residents could grow cherry tomatoes, spinach, water parsley, lettuce and chives, using wooden or plastic foam boxes.

"You don't need a lot of space to get started," says Kim. "It's amazing how little space the tomatoes, onions and lettuce need to grow. Parents should certainly try growing crops to serve for their children, using the smallest spaces like windowsills for pots of salad plants."

She added that we should not only be concerned about where our food comes from ― refocusing our attitudes towards the environment is equally as important.

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