City slickers embrace country rhythm, life

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City slickers embrace country rhythm, life

After driving down an unpaved road in Jangsu county, North Jeolla province, a village of 50 residents came into sight. But the farmers in Haneulso Maeul, or “Beetle Village,” are not your average breed: Until December 2003, they were entrepreneurs: businessmen living in Seoul, Gwangju and Jeonju.
At a poultry farm near the entrance of the village, Mun Won-san, 41, greeted reporters with a smile.
“Whenever I get up in the morning, I check the weather. I think I’ve already turned into a farmer,” he said, pointing out that his finger joints have already thickened. “I am happier as I gave up the empty greed of urban life.”
Leaving a small business in Jeonju, Mr. Mun came here to experience country living. Starting with a plot spanning 1,652 square meters (17,791 square feet), Mr. Mun now farms an area almost three times that size.
“With no experience in farming, it hasn’t been easy,” said Mr. Mun, who is still 15 million won ($15,700) in debt. “But I don’t feel hard done by, because I feel like I’m cultivating a new life here.”
In a greenhouse nearby, Heo Yun-haeng, 37, was picking tomato buds. Two years ago, he gave up a promising career as a computer programmer in a large company to become a farmer.
“In busy seasons, I work 10 to 12 hours a day on the farm,” Mr. Heo said. “But I love being able to look at flowers on the side of the road and stars in the night sky.”
Haneulso initially housed 10 families, though three promptly moved out. Since then, another five families have arrived.
The residents are as self-sufficient as possible, making their own bricks and chopping down, and then replanting, their own trees to build the houses. They even recycle their own sewage (there are no flush toilets) to use as fertilizer; chemicals are banned here.
Though the residents’ ultimate aim is to turn a profit, it is not proving easy.
Last year, Mr. Mun alone lost 3 million won thanks to bills for maintaining his truck and other equipment. Yet he has just started breeding chickens, from which he hopes to make up to 1 million won this year.
“Even in the best of circumstances, it’ll take five to six years for these farmers to break even,” said a Jangsu county government official.

by Jang Dae-suk
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