The root of everything
A returning South Korean intern reflects on the
universal role of the farmer.

By A-reum Song

editor's NOTE:

The Rodale Institute interns take turns tracking their observations and sharing what they are learning as they help out the various departments here at The Rodale Institute.

This next generation of farmers offers insights into what motivates them to go against the tide when so many farm families struggle to keep up-and-coming generations interested in farming.

--NF Editors

Posted 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.