Farmer finds gold in them there pumpkinsSEOSAN, South Chungcheong ― Ten years ago, pumpkins were quite a rare crop in this town as the local farmers mainly grew green onions and red peppers. Currently, millstone pumpkins dominate the fields, covering 30 percent of the farmland, or 198,347 square meters (49 acres). Millstone pumpkins are also called “old” pumpkins for their relative sweetness compared to other varieties, as they gain more sugar content as they ripen. They are also believed to assist in treating high blood pressure and diabetes.
The transformation of Seosan to a major producer of pumpkins began with Choe Geun-myeong, the owner of the Chamsemgol pumpkin farm. Mr. Choe, 52, had been growing oyster mushrooms in the town for 20 years, but decided to turn to other crops after the oyster mushroom yield decreased. While looking for alternative crops at the Garak agricultural and marine products market in southeastern Seoul, the millstone pumpkin caught his eye. He noticed that long after the crops had been harvested in the fall, any still on the market were still selling at high prices. The fact that the pumpkins were almost impossible to store for longer than three months added to their price increase in the spring.
“If I could only figure out how to store the pumpkins, I thought, it would be a great source of income,” Mr. Choe said. “Finding millstone pumpkins in the summertime is like finding a needle in a haystack.” In 1997, Mr. Choe planted millstone pumpkins on 9,900 square meters of land. After two years of experimenting, he discovered that maintaining a humidity level of 70 percent and an indoor temperature of 12 to15 degrees centigrade (53.6 to 59 Fahrenheit) kept the pumpkins from rotting. In 2000, he established a pumpkin storage facility with an automatic temperature control system. He then borrowed unused fields and increased his area of cultivation to 49,500 square meters.
Mr. Choi also adopted a chemical-free agricultural method that removed the need for pesticides or fertilizers by using Chitosan, a material extracted from crab and lobster shells, to drive away insects and help produce high quality pumpkins.
Mr. Choe passed on his methods of storing pumpkins and his cultivating techniques to other farmers in the town and formed a farmers’ cooperative.
“The pumpkins are resistant to insects and grow well, even on barren land,” said Han Sang-beom, 60, a cooperative member.
Mr. Choe also established a processing plant and started to develop processed foods made from pumpkin. He said he thought this would add value as Koreans viewed the millstone pumpkins as ugly. In partnership with his wife, Lee Hye-ran, Mr. Choe now sells pumpkins, pumpkin juice, pumpkin noodles and pumpkin porridge on the Internet (camsemgol.com). The pumpkins cost 15,000 won ($15) per 7 to 8 kilograms (15 to 17 pounds). Mr. Choe said annual sales through the Web site, including the processed food items, are 200 million won.
In 2001, Mr. Choe was selected as a “new intellectual” by the South Chungcheong Provincial Government for his lead in developing the area’s agriculture. Mr. Choe also runs a rural camp, offering people the chance to help in the harvest and prepare pumpkin noodles and porridge. Last year, about 1,200 people took part in the camp. “Enjoying summer in a rural town full of ripe pumpkins is a unique pleasure for one’s family and friends,” Mr. Choe said.
by Kim Bang-hyeon