[Campus Commentary]Labor upon the land a distant memory?

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[Campus Commentary]Labor upon the land a distant memory?

Just a few weeks ago, I came back from my school’s annual farmer-student solidarity trip, a chance for urban students to be exposed to a farming environment. Being a senior, I had to take the role of a leader who takes care of younger students and was in charge of a small village.
I used to visit my grandmother, who lives in the countryside, alone. So I found the rural scenery and traditional living environment familiar and endurable. But some of the younger students did not. The sophomores and juniors were reliable because they had some experience, but I felt great concern for the freshmen. Some had grown up living in a foreign city for many years, and some had never visited a rural town because none of their relatives lived there. Only one freshman had experienced farm work. I wondered if they could endure a situation quite opposite to urban life, and worried they would regret their decision to participate.
We arrived at our destination after a long bus ride. We stayed at an elderly couple’s house in the village. The house did not have hot water. It had two clean rooms and a big refrigerator, but the toilets were outdoor squats. There was no shower. We spent the first day cleaning the house.
On the second and third days, we woke up at 5:30 a.m. as farmers do and got ready to work. We split into groups and went to the fields. The farm’s major product is pepper, and we had to plant it.
Even I, who think train handles are dirty, got my hands into the ground, and a junior next to me followed my lead. It wasn’t easy having to bend my back. Some who were tired simply sat on the ground and started to chat. Finally, they were scolded.
One family had three children, the only children in the village. The eldest girl attends middle school, and does not like to help her parents work. The other is elementary-age. Their parents have done their best to teach them despite a poor environment for education. The parents seemed to believe their children will study at a university, and have high expectations for their son, who is smarter than most urban kids.
Returning to the city, younger students filled their blogs with pictures they took working in the fields.
I started to consider the dirty subway hand straps and public toilets, forgetting the field I had planted. And I thought of the three children there.
After they grow up, will they come back to their hometown to engage in farming? I think they won’t. The country of Korea has become too old and infirm, and the farmers do not understand the Korea-US FTA. Perhaps they will fail to survive and their sons will never return. After a few decades pass, there may be only few farmers left. Traditional large families with rice fields might vanish. And young people may see or learn the holiness of living things through only textbooks.
I like to live in the city. I admire the skyline of Seoul and enjoy watching Hollywood movies in multiplex theaters. Fifty years ago, Korea’s young people could not live like me. Fifty years from now, Korea’s young people may not live like me. But I still hope the chance remains to realize the food we eat is not just a product but also the fruit of farmers’ labor.

*The writer is the editor of the Sejong Times, the English-language newspaper at Sejong University.

by Jung Yeon-joon
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