ANN/ THE KOREA HERALD – For Kim Yoo-jun, a 31-year-old firefighter, farming is a newfound hobby – not necessarily to put fresh vegetables on his table, but to regain strength to continue his mission of saving lives.
Looking back at the last three years, Kim realised that he was under a lot of stress at his high-risk job. He realised that he desperately needed to do something other than taking pills or counselling to manage his stress.
“I run my own little farm near my mother’s house. It’s as small as two square metres of land, but growing vegetables like lettuce and Korean perilla makes me feel like I’m being healed. It’s funny, right?” Kim said, adding that he plans to visit floral markets and go tree hunting to make his small farm more lively.
Kim is one of a growing number of people in South Korea who have begun care farming as an alternative form of treatment or medicine.
Behind the growing care farming population is the government, as it acknowledged the power of gardening therapy for Koreans going through mental distress and discontent about the quality of their lives.
According to the Korea Development Institute’s research last year, Koreans were the least happy people among OECD nations.
In 2020, the South Korean government passed the Act On Research, Development, And Promotion of Healing Agriculture, also called the care farming law. The Rural Development Administration (RDA) is in charge of overall management of the care farming law.
In the early 1990s, the RDA first introduced gardening therapy and expanded the concept to include planting and farming in 2013.
In 2017, 28 farms across the country were designated by the RDA as test beds for a Korean version of care farming. As of the end of last year, the agency’s data showed that there were 234 care farms in the country, but the number is expected to be larger when including privately-run care farms with their own therapy programmes.
“The health benefits of care farms are great for people who have a variety of ailments. For example, some people who have lost functionality or who have become dependent on others are introduced to care farms. These people are often able to do the manual labour to make the garden successful,” said an official from the agency’s urban farming team Chung Myung-il.
Care farms were first introduced in 1950 among European countries with the purpose of promoting people’s welfare.
“In European countries, people can stay for few days at farms for farming or gardening therapy. Taking care of plants or other living things really boosts one’s self-esteem and sense of responsibility, as well as mitigating aggressive character traits. Children and young students can increase mental stability and a feeling of bonding, while adults can relieve their stress,” said a professor of horticulture at Jeonnam University Han Tae-ho.