My dear friend Emily is what we affectionately call “a total food hippy”. She ferments her own food, her eyes light up at the mention of bacteria, and she could talk for days about seeds and planting fruit trees. So, appropriately, one of the first things she did when she arrived in Korea earlier this year was seek out an opportunity to work on a farm. She connected with a small organic blueberry farm through the WWOOF website and happened to be their very first WWOOF volunteer.
In the few days she spent with them she became like a part of their family. She returned a few more times and she’s been raving to us about the farm ever since. Finally, last weekend, she took a friend and I with her to spend a day volunteering on the farm and we got to experience firsthand the magic she so frequently gushes about.
We took the first bus out of Dong-gu station and spent the 75 minute ride watching the sun come up and being glared at by a grumpy ajumma for chatting too much. We stepped off the bus in a rural little village and waited in the chilly morning air for Myung Soon, the farmer lady, to pick us up.
As she pulled up and we loaded into the van, she shouted enthusiastically, “EMILY!” Her excitement was palpable and I liked her immediately. She didn’t speak a word of English but we managed to communicate in broken Korean, mostly under Emily’s confident lead. We all laughed a lot, which was all that seemed to matter.
Pulling into the driveway felt like arriving home. The modest white house was nestled at the base of a hill, surrounded by rows and rows of apple trees, vegetable patches, and a field of blueberry plants. The morning dew glistened on the shiny red apples in the morning sun. The air was quiet, fresh, and a blanket of calm enveloped the region.
Our first task was some sweeping and cleaning, but before long she called us in for breakfast. She served us up a bowl of bibimbap (mixed vegetables and rice) with a homemade gochuchang (spicy pepper paste) that was so addicting I wondered if she’d also sprinkled crack on top.
Next, she had us jarring homemade blueberry gochuchang. In fact, we spent the entire day scooping, pouring, and lidding various pastes and liquids. If this is farming, get me some overalls and sign me up. We couldn’t have asked for easier work! We sat outside in the warm sunshine scooping and jarring, laughing and talking and reveling in the experience. While we worked, her husband would bring us apples plucked right off the branch and carrots freshly dug up.
In between tasks we strolled through the apple trees and took naps on the grass. For lunch she fixed huge bowls of ramyeon noodles with eggs and vegetables cooked in. The normal panchon (side dishes of kimchi, peppers, radishes, etc) accompanied the meal, of course. Afterward, I lazed about in a noodle induced food coma.
The afternoon was spent jarring some kind of noxious tasting liquid derived from fermented dandelion plants and fermented apricot juice. It’s supposed to have great health properties and aid in liver detoxification but even mixed with honey and hot water it still tasted like an ogre pissed in a cup. Nevertheless, we cheersed to the murky liquid and grimaced at the subsequent stomach gurgles.
The more I observed Myung Soon, or Host-Nim, as we called her, the more in awe of her I was. She directed us with kindness and patience, but with a no-nonsense attitude that let you know she meant business. She always seemed to be smiling, and her face glowed with a youthful vibrance that was infectious. Her laugh was loud and generous; everything about her radiated a passion for life. We realized that, in many ways, she is not a typical Korean woman.
When the sun started to set and we needed to be on our way, she insisted on cooking us a quick dinner. Her husband fried samgyupsal (pork) on the stove and we wrapped the hot meat in lettuce leaves he had picked from the garden that afternoon. We dipped it in some of the blueberry gochuchang we had harvested from the fermenting pots in the morning.
We ate hurriedly and rushed to the van with five minutes to spare before the bus arrived at the station down the road. As we loaded into the van, Myung Soon rushed down the driveway with her arms full of apples she’d just grabbed from the trees. She sent us on our way with smiles and waves and we all sighed in warm hearted contentment as the apple trees faded in the rearview mirror.
Have you ever volunteered on a farm? What was it like?
If you’re interested in WWOOF farming in Korea, here is the link to the website –> WWOOF KOREA
The profile for the farm we visited is here –> Blueberry Farm