Mr. Park Hyun-geun living in Osan in central Korea enjoys tending his vegetable garden at home. He purports that having a vegetable garden has not only brightened his home, but also mellowed him. He used to be somewhat hot-tempered, but taking care of vegetables and plants made him a more relaxed and patient person. Also, tending the garden has become a pet project that brought his family together.
I used to be really impatient, but having this garden made me calmer. My children didn’t have much reaction to gardening, but once they tried out the home-grown vegetables, they volunteered to water the plants. Now my family talks about gardening all the time and my wife and I drink tea and relax together at the garden. Having a vegetable garden is especially nice when I’m having a barbecue, because I can pick lettuce leaves and vegetables for grilling whenever I need them. They are more flavorful than the store-bought ones.
Mr. Park is sharing his newfound joy with his neighbors by sharing the vegetables he cultivated in a small garden set up in one corner of his apartment balcony. Mr. Park’s hobby illustrates the latest eco-friendly trend of urban dwellers – urban farming. Now city residents can indulge their desires to grow living things whenever they want. A small patch of vegetable garden in a balcony is all they need to rejuvenate their bodies and minds.
Little children plant rice seedlings along the white strings lined up in a field. Their little hands can grasp only about five seedlings in a handful and it must not be easy for them to bend low to plant the seedlings. But they troop on because they learned that the seedlings will grow up to become the rice they will eat at home.
This was not a scene from a rural community, but in the middle of Seoul. The city of Seoul held its first urban farming fair in the plaza in front of the city hall from June 14th through 17th. In keeping up with the latest eco-friendly trends, the city-sponsored event aimed to boost people’s understanding about farming and teach them about the agricultural items that can be grown in the city. Here’s Mr. Song In-bong, a city government employee in charge of the fair, for more explanation.
People’s interest in urban farming has increased in recent years. Urban farming is easy to do even for busy city residents and can be quite productive both agriculturally and financially. We opened this urban farming show to show the different ways to farm in urban settings so everyone can experience urban farming.
The grassy plaza in front of the Seoul city hall building was transformed into a rural village. Various booths were set up to teach visitors about farming techniques and home gardening, as well as give visitors opportunities to try their hands at farming. The assorted events and hands-on programs seemed to stir the visitors’ interest in farming. Here’s Mr. Song In-bong, a city government employee in charge of the fair, for more.
We have showcased several examples of urban farming – rooftop gardens, indoor gardens, plant factories, and more. Award recipients from nationwide agriculture and horticulture contests have brought their ideas here and we have a wide range of programs teaching people about farming equipment, vegetables and plants fit for city farming, and easy farming methods. We also gave out free vegetable seeds and organic fertilizers, distributed pots for rice cultivation, and provided programs for children. The whole trade show aimed at raising people’s awareness and understanding of farming.
The city of Seoul has proclaimed this year as the beginning of urban farming and invested 6.5 billion won, nearly 5.7 million dollars, to turn 1% of the city area into urban farms. The city government plans to convert unused patches of land found throughout the city into green farming zones. An urban farming park located in Nodeul Island in central Seoul is a part of the municipal government’s new green policy. About 70 different rice varieties were planted in the park’s 10-million square meters of land, named the “toad field,” because of the toads living near the rice fields. Besides the rice field, there are many other gardens in the urban farming park – the Nodeul vegetable garden measuring over 22,500 square meters, 6,000 square meters of civic vegetable garden, 2,300 square meters of community farms, and 500 square meters allotted for growing indigenous plants. Seoul is not the only city in Korea to promote urban farming. Many local governments are rushing to invest in urban farming. What is so special about urban farming to merit such wide interest and heavy investment? Here’s Mr. Shin Dong-heon of the Urban Farming Forum to tell us more.
Urban farming is defined as agricultural activities inside a city. The spatial concept of urban farming is important, but I think who does the farming is just as important, which is why urban farming is sometimes called urbanite farming. Urban consumers taking direct part in farming is what urban farming is all about. For instance, a Seoul resident growing vegetables in a small garden in Chungcheong Province would qualify as a city farmer, but a real farmer growing vegetables in a building in Seoul cannot be considered an urban farmer. The key to urban farming, therefore, lies in the city dwellers who engage in farming as a hobby. Since cities lack vast land for growing produce, urban dwellers use rooftops or balconies or neglected patches of land to farm.
What benefits does urban farming bring? The Seoul government chose Guro District Office as a model case of urban farming. Here’s Mr. Shin Dong-heon of the Urban Farming Forum to explain more.
Residents of Guro District created rooftop gardens. The district residents use natural enemies of pests to control aphids and encourage honeybees to pollinate the zucchinis growing there. Where there are plants, there is a thriving ecosystem. It doesn’t take much, just a small corner on the rooftop would do. Urban farming plays an important part in restoring an ecosystem. Just plant a small pot of rice on the rooftop and see for yourself. See how bees come to pollinate the plants and how the surroundings are changed.
The urban farms of Guro District are special because they mainly use recycled items such as used furniture and old machinery to grow vegetables.
Guro District farmers filled an old grandfather clock with soil and planted lettuce and radish there. They also grow lettuce out of an old suitcase and a speaker. A used banner is used to cover the radish and even a torn pair of jeans serves as a soil container for hot pepper plants.
Any old item can be recycled into a useful item for urban farmers. A plastic water bottle with a fresh coat of paint can work as a unique vase and almost anything- old musical instruments, children’s toys, and even old tires - can be turned into a fertile ground for plants. These refitted items also add character to the whole lot. One of the most popular attractions at the urban farming trade show was an urban farm set up with recycled goods.
This is my vegetable garden. I took some old pipes and filled them with soil and made water drain holes at the bottom. That’s where I grow my lettuce. I also used the pipes to make a stacked-up garden, which doesn’t take up much room in my balcony. It’s easier to pick lettuce and chicory leaves from a vertical garden, like picking leaves off of a tree.
Urban farmer Park Hyun-geun from Osan showcased his PVC pipe gardens. The pipes were arranged both horizontally and vertically to facilitate farming as well as create an artistic effect. His gardens are truly living pieces of art.
- I don’t need to live in the country to farm. I can farm in Seoul and I don’t even need a big piece of land. I can grow vegetables in my balcony, using pipes or plastic bottles. People grow all kinds of vegetables, like red leaf lettuce, chicory, peppers. It motivated me to do the same at home. I thought it would be a lot of work to have a vegetable garden at home, but this fair changed my mind.
- Vegetables were grown in plastic boxes and even in sneakers. I want to have a small vegetable garden in my balcony and grow fresh and health vegetables for my family.
The urban farming fair gave many good ideas to novice city farmers. The eight exhibition halls at the fair featured a wide range of agricultural principles, farming methods, and equipment. Here’s Mr. Song In-bong, a city government employee in charge of the fair and the urban agriculture team, for more explanation.
Hands-on programs at the fair included feeding silkworms, making compost using earthworms, creating recycled pots, growing herbs, and making eco-friendly pesticides. The urban farming corporation hall sold shovels, hoes, and other farming implements, as well as seeds, fertilizers, and just about everything you would need for farming in the city. The recycling exhibition hall showcased farmers who used Styrofoam boxes and old household appliances to grow vegetables. Other thematic exhibition featured the present and future of urban farming, economic and job creation effects of urban farming, and other agricultural information.
In the horticulture section some 80 mini gardens were in display, and the urban farming culture area presented artworks with agricultural themes, showing how art and farming can be combined to create a new genre. But just looking at these displays does not make you a farmer. So visitors try their hands at farming at the various hands-on interactive programs provided at the show.
This program teaches how to utilize moss for urban farming. Applying moss to the plant pots helps with humidity control and plant growth. The idea of using moss is new to most urban dwellers, who knew only to water plants.
- I learned something new about growing plants. It was fun.
- It was amazing to see plants growing amid the moss. The moss helps control humidity and eliminates the need to turn on a humidifier in the winter.
Visitors pay special attention to the type of soil needed to create an indoor vegetable garden.
It’s not often that city residents get to touch the soil with their hands. They realize the importance of fertile soil by mixing the soil with chicken poop. A teacher who brought her students to the fair feels that the children have grown to appreciate nature more.
- The students planted vegetables and used colored silkworms to make a necklace. They thought chicken poop was disgusting at first, but learned how beneficial it was to farming. They probably never grew anything at home, but just seeing that there are many farming options could motivate them to grow vegetables themselves. It was an emotional and visual delight for my city students.
Just spending a few hours turning the soil, planting seeds, and watering seems to have transformed them into urban farmers. Farming in the city can bring nature closer to city residents, help them realize the importance of land, clear the air inside a home, and motivate people to appreciate nature more. That is the appeal of urban farming.
- I have potted plants, but they were just for decoration, not for eating. I certainly learned a lot about urban farming today.
- I thought I couldn’t grow vegetables inside an apartment, but I was wrong. I think I can grow lettuce and peppers in my balcony.
- Children can learn more about what they eat through urban farming. Food safety is a serious issue these days, so mothers should pay more attention to urban farming. Don’t you think it’s safer and better for the environment to grow your own food?