Growing old on a farm: eggs and a sense of worth

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Growing old on a farm: eggs and a sense of worth

HONGSEONG, South Chungcheong -- Where is the best place to spend your retirement? For Gwak Byeong-bu, 67, it’s in a community of senior citizens who work on a farm in Hongseong, South Chungcheong province.

In 2000, after 40 years in Seoul as an office worker, Mr. Gwak joined the community, named “Farm for the Retired.” These days, with his fellow elders, Mr. Gwak is immersed in gathering in this year’s rice crop. “Working at this farm reverses the aging process,” he said, his face soaked in sweat.

Just before coming to the farm, Mr. Gwak was in bad shape. He was suffering from depression and diabetes, and his beloved wife had recently died. He was able to overcome those hard times through the sense of accomplishment he gets from farming at the community. Mr. Gwak has more than 20 friends at the farm, like Yoo Yong-gyu, 67. Retired after 30 years of working at the Busan Paradise Hotel, Mr. Yoo began his retired life on the farm in 1996.

The farming community is run by a couple, Kim Yeong-cheol, 50 and Park Yeongae, 47, and opened in August 1995. Mr. Kim, a Hongseong native, spent his teenage years in Seoul, which only made him homesick. He thinks the older generations still have a lot to contribute to modern society. “I don’t understand why society drives the elders out, although they are still capable,” he said. “All of us will be old someday.”

Mr. Kim went back to Hongseong after high school and in 1973 bought the site where the community is now for 2 million won. The couple lived by raising pigs, and managed to save up 700 million won ($575,000) by 1995. They invested all of it to build the community farm.

The center of the complex is its communal building, with eight rooms of 33 square meters each. Around it are 16 separate houses. To be a member, you have to be more than 60 years old and retired.

There are 21 residents at the farm. They range in age from 60 to 86 and come from all over the peninsula. They used to be teachers, government officials or office workers.

The day dawns at 6 a.m., with the members gathering up eggs. Then they get together to take a walk around the farm. Then they go to the greenhouses where they tend to crops such as cucumbers and lettuce.

Mr. Kim sells the vegetables from the farm at a local market; he gives 30 percent of the profits to the members of the community. Some save the money to send to their grandchildren, many of whom visit on weekends.

Besides the owners, the community has one married couple: a former teacher, Song Jae-hyeong, 76, and his wife Choi Gyu-man, 76. “I feel happy here,” Mr. Song said, “for I’m doing something productive.”

by Kim Bang-hyun

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