Suwon Citizen's Farm

Farm, City, and City Farm

All of the screenings Suhee and I have done so far have been wonderful and challenging in different ways, and I’d like to highlight a few that typify the audiences and places we’ve been reaching out to so far.

Suwon Citizen’s Farm

Imagine a big tract of abandoned agricultural land just outside the city with a view of the skyline on one side and green hills on the other. This place used to be a governmental research center for tobacco and ginseng (yeah, a strange combination). It’s basically a huge farm and at the center are a bunch of buildings that were labs, offices, and storage areas, etc…

Suwon Citizen's Farm
Suwon Citizen’s Farm

Now, sometime recently, this whole government complex closed, and when a big piece of land just at the edge of a city closes down or moves, the most typical scenario is that an extremely wealthy developer grabs the land, bulldozes what was on it, and builds something lucrative in its place — in Korea this is most often a bunch of huge, dreary, identical apartment towers.

Well, the vice mayor of the city, who we had the pleasure of meeting last night, had a different plan. He and a group of citizens seem to have ensured that the land stayed agricultural, that it would be open to citizens to roam about, and most importantly that the fields and buildings would be activated with community activities centered around re-connecting people with nature, food, and each other.

Suwon Citizen's Farm Screening Q+A
Suwon Citizen’s Farm Screening Q+A

It’s just in the beginning phase, and the building we were in last night felt very much like an the old, drafty, abandoned government building that it was. Yet about sixty people came out to this place for the film and macrobiotic cooking demonstration. It was a good feeling to talk with these people, and to see what is going on in Suwon, where the local government leaders seem very clued in to the importance of connecting their communities to food and the environment.

Suwon Citizen's Farm Macrobiotic cooking demonstration by Yoonseo Lee
Suwon Citizen’s Farm Macrobiotic cooking demonstration by Yoonseo Lee

Indeed, it’s a matter of survival that we begin again to cultivate such relationships, and one of the most important places to begin is at the level of neighborhood and city.

Seoul Urban Farmer’s Festival

Take Seoul’s line 9 subway out to the Western most end of the route and you’ll find yourself in a field beside the Gimpo Airport runway.  It’s a bit of a walk out to the farm, but they had a shuttle on this particular day, as a boisterous farming festival was taking place. The sound of the place was certainly festive, with a group of traditional ‘pungmul’ drummers playing, shouting, and dancing around the grounds.

Seoul Urban Farm Festival
Seoul Urban Farm Festival | photos: Suhee Kang, Final Straw

They also happened to print an absurdly large poster for the film screening, which we were surprised by, thinking it might be used only for one day and then thrown out. Looking closely, we found it was printed on a nice looking flexible material instead of paper. Well, to the delight of the organizer you know what we did, was fold it up carefully and take it with us to use at future events.

Seoul Urban Farm Festival Final Straw Screening
Seoul Urban Farm Festival Final Straw Screening

Honestly, I was worried that we had several things working against us at this event. It was daytime, in a greenhouse, after lunch, at a farm where people can connect with nature directly instead of watching a film. Never the less, the film seemed to inspire a lot of people and we had a great bunch of practical and curious questions to field afterwards.

The Value Garden

Now we find ourselves on the edge of the glitzy Gangnam district in Seoul, down a small backstreet, up a flight of dark twisting stairs, and standing inside an unassuming but warm feeling little room at a place called the Value Garden.

I wrote a recent post about how the word ‘value’ is a rather corrupted word in Western capitalist countries, and I think it’s important to learn from places like Value Garden, which offer a wide open approach to the word ‘value,’ asking the community to challenge their own ideas of what value means, and to think critically and to grow the values that they cherish most. That was the way our post-screening conversation seemed to roll on this night…

Post screening group discussion at Value Garden in Seoul
Post screening group discussion at Value Garden in Seoul

There are always some tensions in any of these talks, and the same was true here, but the difference was that everyone seemed to genuinely want to agree on a central idea. We all rallied around the acceptance that our actions — whether they are economic, social, political, agricultural, scientific — must all be grounded in a compassion and relationship with the living world around us. A simple but worthy starting place for action.

It was a great feeling to have this kind of talk and to hear of the actions people are taking, from learning to farm to re-imagining city design.

Value Garden screening group photo
Value Garden screening group photo

This particular screening and talk included farmers from a few minutes away and a few hours away, an urban designer, a back to the land activist, green party members, a woman who had attended one of our workshops and who brought her daughter along this time, and a good group of food lovers. At the end, we all got to take a great group photo afterwards — regrettably minus the farmers from a few hours away, who had to leave early to catch the train.

Not a bad turnout for the edge of glitzy Gangnam.