In mid-October, I received an amazing invitation to travel to Seoul, South Korea to talk about Community Supported Agriculture in the United States. Now, you should know that I am a big (make that HUGE) fan of all kinds of Asian cuisine, including kimchi, Korea’s national dish.
However, the closest I had been to Asia was San Francisco’s Chinatown (admittedly the largest Chinatown outside of Asia). Needless to say, I leaped at the opportunity to experience this region of the world firsthand!
After a 13-hour plane ride (direct from Chicago to Seoul), I arrived and was warmly greeted at the airport by my hosts from the non-governmental organization, Local Food Korea, and our translators from the International Strategy Center (a partner organization). My visit coincided with their Local Food Expo. Local Food Korea’s mission is to educate the public and raise awareness for local food across Korea.
First stop? Dinner, of course! This first meal introduced me to the signature dish of Korea, Bibimbap. What a fun meal – seated on the floor, we mixed various side dishes served in many tiny bowls into our rice – delicious!
The following day was the Expo. As part of this event, I participated in a panel and gave a presentation about CSA in the U.S. I was joined by Andrea Calori of Milan, Italy, the President of Urgenci, an international coalition of CSA farmers and supporters, Shinji Hashimoto of Ichijima, Japan, an organic farmer at a Teikei system farm (the Japanese version of CSA), and Kim Jeong-Yeol from the Korean Women Peasant Association and the Sister’s Garden, a CSA-style farm collective.
FairShare’s former executive director, Kiera Mulvey, serves as secretary of Urgenci’s International Committee. FairShare and Urgenci organized the first U.S. international CSA conference in California in 2012.
While I was invited to share my knowledge and perspective, I found that I learned so much more from my hosts and other guests. I was touched by their passion and concern for their communities, healthy food and the land. I learned that a major concern for Korean leaders is their country’s food sovereignty. The majority of food is imported and farmers in Korea struggle to get by. There is also a growing concern among Korean consumers around the health of their food, GMOs and pesticide use. The leaders who listened to our presentations are working to strategically develop and incentivize food production in Korea. The CSA movement in Korea has developed to address these concerns and goals.
My final day was spent touring Wanju County, a leader in the local food movement in Korea. We met with the leader of their community development organization and a new direct-sale store. This store is set-up co-op style and features fresh and packaged produce grown and processed by local farmers.
Above the retail store is a beautiful slow-food cafeteria, where we enjoyed my favorite lunch – spread with so many veggies prepared as kimchi, tempura, little cakes, and more! We then visited the processing center, just a short drive away, where farmers can bring their produce and make value-added products like kimchi, dried food, or baked goods.
I feel truly honored to have been included in this exceptional group of local food leaders from around the world, and gratified to know that our local CSA coalition is making waves and creating change to expand the movement across the globe!
Erika Jones joined her first CSA in 2006 while living in Berkeley, Calif. She returned to her native Wisconsin to pursue her interests in sustainable agriculture and food policy while completing her master’s degree through the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW Madison. A self-proclaimed foodie, her other passions include cooking, eating, food preservation and craft beer. Erika has been with FairShare since May 2012.