Exploring Jeju City’s Tiny But Novel Urban Garden Plots
Healthy Living Gains Ground in the US
In the last decade or so, Americans have been forced to become more aware about how food affects our bodies. We’ve become more concerned with where food comes from, and how it’s produced. We’re fed up with the lack of healthy options. Taking matters into own hands, we’ve begun planting gardens again. Michelle Obama even created one at the White House. People started learning about “food deserts” and the disproportionate way this phenomenon affects communities of color. Food has become a community issue.
Urban Farming in Jeju
Living abroad, I wondered how people felt about food and gardening in other corners of the world. Excitingly, I started noticing gardens tucked into nooks and crannies of Jeju City, where I lived recently. I was interested in the urban farming in Jeju.
Wellness in South Korea
In comparison to the US, people are impressively healthy in South Korea. Maybe it’s the affordable health care, or maybe it’s that Koreans walk…a lot. You just don’t see the same amount of obese people as you do in the US. Although most people work longer hours here, they still eat balanced meals with meat, vegetables, and fruit and fewer carbs. Koreans also eat a ton of fermented foods, which promote healthy gut flora.
(Americans should walk like Koreans)
We should walk as much as they do in South Korea. pic.twitter.com/vcgikeNmkU
— ATTN: (@attn) July 14, 2017
Green Ambition in the Desert
There are still great challenges in making healthy, local food more available in the US. But, if you’re looking for them, there are some impressive initiatives germinating. My friend Kenny Barrett’s urban farming initiative called Roosevelt Growhouse in Downtown Phoenix is one such movement. It is aptly named, since he rented the older style house in the Roosevelt Art District, and all around it plants are growing, due to his diligence as an organizer. It was part of his vision to have the community involved and directly benefitting from the communal garden. Local people volunteer to work the garden and reap the rewards. They grow chillies, sunflowers, basil, greens, you name it.
Kenny told me a story about how he started growing corn in the small median where parking meters were placed, along the curb of the smaller street the house was on. Well, the city found out and issued Kenny a citation. Phoenix is not always cutting edge. When Kenny showed up at court, he brought a big pile of corn, yielded from that small strip of land. That shut the city up.
Here’s a great photo of some kids working at the garden:
Urban Green on an Island
I get the sense that urban farming in Jeju doesn’t face the same sort of opposition. Gardens are tucked into every available space, whether small or large. Sometimes there is only one crop, some chilies or a few chives, other times the garden is extensive. Usually, the patches are quiet and deserted, but I know people are using them. Occasionally, I see women, usually middle-aged, tending them or picking chilies and onions.
There doesn’t seem to be the same obsession about where and how food is raised in Jeju, as there is in the US. Perhaps Jeju residents don’t have as much of a need to be picky about this. I often see older women foraging in public parks and alongside roads for edible greens. I am slightly concerned that the foods they are picking might have pesticides and poisons on them, but I admire the ingenuity of finding free healthy food. From a financial perspective, with fruit and vegetables at pretty high prices on this island (avocados are $2.50 each), it might be another reason why foraging is popular.
This is written from the perspective of an outsider. I don’t speak much of the language, and although I’ve lived in Jeju off and on, there is always more to learn about a place. However, I find the foraging and urban gardens fascinating, because I’ve been interested in these things since I was a child. Always the entrepreneur, I remember gathering wild rose hips and selling them as natural remedies to my mom’s friends when I was in elementary school. And we always had a garden growing up. We grew up in the countryside, so we didn’t need to design tiny, urban gardens. We had ample space to grow herbs like mint, thyme, and sage, and vegetables like asparagus, corn, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, and onions.
Jeju’s urban gardens don’t seem communal to me, but I still admire them. The gardeners have carved out a space to create life, and cultivate wellness. In a city on a small island, with many cars and buildings, this is a remarkable feat in and of itself.
Dreams of Gardens Future
The more I think about gardens — the leafy greens, vivid orange of carrots, deep purple of eggplant, the radiant reds of chilies and radishes, the gratifying coolness of the earth between my fingers, and the rainbow stream of water from a watering can, the surer I become. I want to live somewhere long enough to have a garden. And if I’m making wishes, let me add a cat–lounging among the mounds of fertile earth–to the picture.
What do you grow in your garden? Tell me about it in the comments.
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