May 11, 2007: I came to the US just a month ago from
South Korea for a nine-month internship at the Rodale Institute.
I was here last summer with my Korean classmates to participate
in a collaborative program between The Rodale Institute and
the agronomy department at my university (Gyengsang National
University). This was a very rewarding experience for me,
so I applied for a 2007 internship and I am here again.
I have taken a leave of absence from my university, having
completed my sophomore year before I left. It is typical in
Korea for students to take a leave of absence during their
college years for a practical experience. My major is agronomy
and I am learning many technical things related to organic
farming at The Rodale Institute, but at this time I would
like to make some comments about normal people’s thinking
about farmers and farming rather than the technical things.
Below is a well-known Korean traditional saying related
to farming and the farmer:
(The characters on the first line are Chinese; those on the
second line are Korean. In Korea we used to use the Chinese
characters, a long time ago.)
The Korean pronunciation of the saying is: “Nong ja
chun ha ji dae bon.”
My T-shirt with this saying on it (pictured below) was the
agronomy department’s student T-shirt last year. The
saying means: "The people who are farming are the root
of everything in the entire world."
"The people who are farming are the root of
everything in the entire world."
Think about it! Isn’t this a great saying? I think
it is a very worthy saying, but I think most people don’t
think like I do.
Often, I hear young college students in my country say they
might have to farm if they don’t study hard now. Of
course, I know that is sort of a joke. But I wonder what kind
of thinking is the basis of these jokes.
In Korea, most people think I did not have good grades or
I did not have a certain goal at the time that I chose my
major (if I have told them what my major is). As I said, my
major is agronomy, and agronomy is the science of farming.
Most people may not think like that if I told them I was a
student in the medical department, law school or some other
major. Because of these reasons, many of the students in my
department cannot say their major proudly. I thought this
is a very big problem in Korea before I came here, but now
I realize it is also a problem in the United States. I am
not writing this to pass judgment, rather to say we have to
change our thinking about farming.
Most people today simply know that their food is from the
shelves in the food store or at the grocery market. We can
just pick up bread, butter, fresh vegetables, milk, fruit,
etc., on the grocery shelves—anything, anytime. I know
it has become part of our lifestyle and it makes us feel very
comfortable and secure. But we surely have to know where the
food we eat everyday is coming from and who grows it. No one
can deny that it comes from the farm and the farmer.
Are you a consumer? Yes, of course you are. And on a daily
basis you consume a variety of many wonderful delicious and
nutritious foods. All of them, before being processed, were
grown by the hard work of the farmer. Please think one more
time about your food and about your attitude when you buy
your groceries from a market and you make a joke related to
farming or a farmer. You know it is very easy to make a joke
when your belly is full, but when you’re hungry…
then things aren’t so funny.
Are you a farmer or a student like me? Do you feel proud
because you are a farmer? We might think a farmer doesn’t
make that much money, and he certainly doesn’t wear
a fancy uniform or clothes out of the fashion magazine. But
let me tell you farming is very difficult and a tough occupation
that deals with the uncertainty of the weather, other environmental
factors and many business and market challenges. So the fact
remains that you may not understand farming and you may not
truly appreciate the farmer, but it will always be true that
the farmer and farming is the root of our societies. This
holds true no matter what continent you live on or what nationality
you are or what religious beliefs you may have. When our bellies
growl, they are all speaking the same universal language.