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
"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.