Urbanite shows just how simple farming can be

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Urbanite shows just how simple farming can be

Before she won the silver prize earlier this month at the Star City Farmers Parade, an agricultural event hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Jang Jin-joo was just a typical urbanite who hadn’t even attempted farming until after college.

The contest chooses a winner from among 12 finalists who have already placed in nationwide regional competitions for their clever innovations in urban farming.

Jang stood out for making what’s known as veranda farming - growing vegetables and other produce on residential balconies and rooftops - so accessible to the average city-dweller.

Having majored in biomolecular engineering in college, the 32-year-old decided to start a blog using her scientific knowledge to guide readers through the process of planting their own food.

Concerns about her diet initially led her to begin growing her own crops like tomatoes and cabbage on her apartment veranda.

While working as a high school biology teacher at private institutes in Seoul, she gained weight, she said.

The nature of her job kept her working until late in the evenings, which often led to a lot of late-night snacking.

So after careful consideration, Jang started a vegetable diet, consuming vegetables up to five times a day to maintain satiety.

After a few months, she was able to lose the weight, but she soon faced a hurdle when the rainy season started and vegetable prices skyrocketed.

“Whenever I watched the news, there would often be reports that the prices of vegetables had become more expensive than meat, and I felt that I was just wasting my money,” she said. “After that, I came up with the idea to grow my own vegetables myself in 2008. I started by planting tomatoes in a paper cup.

“Two weeks after I sowed the seeds, new buds appeared … So I started to plant more seeds of the vegetables that I like, like chicory, bok choy, lettuce and peppers.”

Soon her veranda had turned into a small green house, and after a few years, she became an expert on urban farming.

She documented the process in detail on her blog, using her biological knowledge to explain it to readers.

She even published a book based on her blog posts.

“Photosynthesis is the process of synthesizing sunlight, oxygen and inorganic salt,” Jang said. “I explained the principles of veranda farming and provided explanations on fertilizers that correspond to inorganic salt.”

Her blog soon took off, and sometimes more than 100,000 people visit her blog daily, she said.

Jang is currently preparing to go abroad to study cooking in Italy, but the ease and accessibility of veranda farming is perhaps one of its most attractive aspects, she said.

The average person, Jang added, can easily grow crops if they have empty spaces on their balconies or rooftops, even if the space is small.

“In Seoul, people who have verandas outnumber the people who have yards. I wanted to show that with just a few seeds of the vegetables we usually buy at supermarkets, a takeout coffee cup and just a small amount of soil, we can all feel the joy that comes with farming,” said Jang.

“Don’t you think it’s a cool way of living to be able to grow your own vegetables?”

BY KIM NA-HAN [koo.yurim@joongang.co.kr]

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