Lee Jee-eun (French, 4) was one of those native Seoulites, eating three times a day, without knowing where one’s dishes came from, and how the ingredients were raised until a year ago.
Now she is a farmer of two gardens. She is even a leader of the Real Garden School, which teaches farming techniques to students who applied. It was March 2010 when a friend asked Lee to participate in farming at a ten square meter-yard located right next to a basketball court in Korea University campus. Since then farming has been an inevitable part of her life.
Six university students gathered to start the garden from the place where even weeds did not grow at first due to its bad soil quality.
“After sowing seeds, all you need to do is to see how sunlight, rain and earth make the seeds grow. It is a whole new amazing discovery,” Lee said.
Lee and her friends first sowed carrots, lettuce, bok choy, cucumber and so on at the garden in Korea University. They practiced organic farming, using not pesticides but natural fertilizers.
“We even made organic fertilizers made from our own urine. We put it in a 1.5 liter plastic bottle and used it.” Lee said.
After eating their first crops with samgyeopsal or pork belly, they made another garden next to the Hwajeong Gymnasium next to Korea University to diversify their crops by growing cabbage and white radish. However, when the price of white radish skyrocketed in last fall, somebody secretly took every white radish from Lee and her friends’ garden.
“We felt so empty that someone even suggested laying a mine or installing an electric shock machine in our garden.” Lee said.
Radish robbery was not the only obstacle they were faced with. Lee and her group suffered from mosquitoes attacks during summer. Also, since all the members were seniors, it was difficult for them to spend much time on farming.
“For instance, we had to get rid of cabbage worms which appear only in the early morning. It was so difficult to get up early and come to school before the sun rose,” Lee said.
The most difficult thing was lack of guidelines for teaching organic farming; this made Lee and her teammates establish the Real Garden School of which first session lasted three months from September 2010 with 50 students, to seek help from organic farming professionals and help people who also want to learn farming but not sure how to start. Students gathered every Thursday for three hours to learn about soil or rural economy structure of Korea from experts. They also held Farmer’s Market to help farmers sell their crops directly to their customers. Products were all sold out with student customers’ great interests.
“Lee was popular among the guest lecturers and the Real Garden School’s students since she always cared them. Also, she was the one who remained positive when everyone was preoccupied with their responsibilities. She is awesome not only as a friend but also as a farmer,” said Kim Eun-ha (Korea University, 4), the leader of Farmer’s Market team at Real Garden School.
Through a year-long farming, she learned not only about raising vegetables but also about a new kind of leadership that not an outstanding leader leads the whole team, but every member leads the group with collaboration, making the community to bond stronger.
“You cannot be efficient when you farm organically. It’s all about waiting and accepting the rhythm of nature,” Lee said. “So we work together in comfortable atmosphere, sometimes working more for a friend who is sick or vice versa. Everyone leads each other since we are a community.”
Lee continues farming this year, too. She plans to start a on campus garden on Ewha campus from this April. As the first step, Lee and other Ewha students planted potatoes in front of the Student Union Building. The location of the other gardens are not decided yet since she has to discuss it with school officials. She plans to continue farming even after her graduation with her team as a form of social enterprise or as a hobby.
“I hope and other members could farm right next to the front gate of Ewha,” Lee said.