Late fall an orange crush of drying persimmons
After the autumn harvest, November is a time to brace for cold weather and settle in for the long winter. But that’s not the case in Sangju, North Gyeongsang. It is peak season for dried persimmon, the city’s specialty.
Farmers in Sangju begin picking the fruit starting in mid-October and they won’t finish until the middle of next month. Clusters of persimmons under the eaves will fill the landscape of the town in December. From a distance, the area appears covered with orange blankets.
A set of equestrian facilities also makes the city an attractive destination. Horse-riding has always had its share of enthusiasts, attracting about 100,000 visitors annually, and the pastime has received an added boost this year from Psy’s dance in “Gangnam Style.”
If you step into the Oenam-myeon, Sangju, you will likely spot buildings that look like warehouses. A closer look would reveal there are only roofs with no outer walls. Black nets enclose the sheltered space.
“Here is a place where persimmons are dried and processed,” says Yoon Jong-no, a 53-year-old in charge of managing the entire process at Sangju City District Office.
The warehouse-like facility is the farm of Kwon Hong-geuk’s, a 48-year-old farmer who moved from an urban city two years ago where he worked for Samsung. With its abundant agricultural products, like persimmons and cucumbers, the town attracted 800 new residents from urban areas this year alone.
At the entrance to the processing facility, four women at machines focus on removing the peels of persimmons. Each woman’s job is to peel about 7,000 fruits, which means a total of about 30,000 peeled persimmons will be arranged on drying racks at the end of the day. It appears to take only about five seconds for the peeling machine to remove the skin of one persimmon.
Some might think the process looks easy and simple, but Kwon says that is definitely not the case.
“We carefully pick, choose, clean and peel it. I didn’t know that there was such a heavy workload before I took on this job.”
All of the tasks except for peeling are performed by people, and that can cause shortages of labor. Farmers say they hire more help from nearby areas, such as Gumi and Uiseong, North Gyeongsang.
“It’s the off-season for most regions, but in Sangju everyone is scrambling to have persimmons dried,” says Yoon.
The insufficient number of staff has driven up the labor cost.
“We pay 60,000 won ($55.26) per day for taking off the peel and 200,000 won for picking the fruits from the trees. You can come and work part-time here,” Kwon jokes.
This year, he expects to produce 300,000 dried persimmons.
“An unripe persimmon costs 500 won, but a dried one is 1,500 won,” says Kwon.
It takes two months for a persimmon to dry.
“The ideal drying temperature during mid-November is -4 to 20 degrees Celsius [24.8 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit], and Sangju is consistently in that temperature range,” says Yoon. “That’s why our town is known for producing delicious dried persimmons.”
Oenam-myeon holds a persimmon festival in December after the dried specialty comes out. This year’s festival, Dec. 22-30, will offer an opportunity to try persimmon recipes and buy dried persimmons at discount prices.
Bonggang Farm Stay Village
The peeling process usually comes to an end by mid-November. Once you make your way to Sangju, all you can do is hold a rich orange-hued view at every turn but you can’t experience paring.
But if you feel down because you missed the harvest, there’s always Bonggang Farm Stay Village. The village offers experience programs ranging from tofu making to threshing rice.
Bonggang Village is a 20-minute-drive north of Sangju. Visitors will encounter a farm that looks as if it used to be school grounds. Director Kim Gwang-sik welcomes guests and takes them to a storage house where a extensive collection of farm tools, including a traditional treadmill, thresher, millstone and cart, are on display. Kim calls the building a warehouse, but it is more like a museum.
The most intriguing tool for kids is a traditional thresher. It is immensely popular even among children from bustling urban areas, some of whom think rice comes from a tree.
A group of the students from Daegu’s Yulgeum Elementary School enjoy husking the grain, stepping onto the threshing machine, bursting into laughter at the sight of falling rice stalks. Another group bickers over who is next.
There is a semiautomatic machine for peeling persimmons. The skin comes off as people adjust a machine that is similar to a potato peeler.
“I store the fruits and rice to run the experience program,” says Kim.
Tofu-making is among the most popular programs all year round. When Kim receives requests for the program, he stays up late at night to soak the soy beans.
Participants might grind the soaked beans on a traditional millstone. Soy milk from the grind mill is put into a rectangular rack with coagulant and then boiled into tofu.
The tofu-making program charges 10,000 won per person and threshing rice is priced at 4,000 won, while the fee for peeling persimmons is 4,500 won. For more information, call 010-3533-8550.
Horse-ride your way to Sangju
A throng of students listens to a trainer’s instructions at Sangju International Equestrian Center on a chilly, windy day in early December.
“Horses are very sensitive. Please don’t clap and don’t make noise with your footsteps,” says the trainer. “For one thing, never go backward when you ride a horse, because it can kick you out by its back legs. It will severely hurt you.”
The trainees’ facial expressions betray their anxiety.
Yet it seems that they couldn’t fully abide by the instructor’s words, as some students clap their hands right after being told not to startle the horses. The trainer quickly stops them.
Students wear helmets and take a seat on the horses’ backs. One student says he thinks the horses might be not that fierce because of their big, pure-looking eyes.
Being panicked by the horse’s moves, the student draws reins and the animal moves more ferociously.
“Don’t draw the reins. Horses would stop because of that,” the trainer warns.
The student finally succeeds in calming the animal and turning around three times in an area of about 30 square meters (322.91 square feet).
“Most trainers are frightened at first, but soon they enjoy it and want more sessions, saying it is a completely fresh experience,” says Kim Young-rok, a chief trainer at the equestrian center, adding tthat about 7,000 people visit the center every month.
Horse-riding is 5,000 won per person. With instruction, the fee is 30,000 won for adults and 20,000 won for children for 40 minutes. For more information, call 054-535-5634-5 or visit http://horse-riding.sangju.go.kr.
It takes three hours to get from Seoul City Hall to Sangju. Use Chungbu Highway and go to the Sangju Interchange. Other highlights of the city include Sangju Bicycle Museum (054-533-3389) and Sangju History Museum (054-536-6160).