Life in the mountains has its highs and lows

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Life in the mountains has its highs and lows


Jo Yeon-hwan, former head of the Korea Forest Service, and his wife, Jeong Jeom-sun, harvest lettuce at their home in Geumsan County, South Chungcheong. [JO YEON-HWAN]

After retiring from the helm of the Korea Forest Service, Jo Yeon-hwan opted for a reclusive life in the mountains of Geumsan County, South Chungcheong. For the past 13 years, he has been sharing stories of his country life on social media and recently compiled them into a book called “The Head of the Korea Forest Service Returns to the Countryside.”

The book is full of advice for people considering a transition to pastoral life, specifically in the mountains.

“Mountains cannot be artificially altered like farmland,” Jo advises in his new book. “You have to consider the direction, slope and properties of the soil to determine the right crops and trees to plant. High-return crops are pointless if they’re not a good fit for your mountain.”

It is this particular element of “come what may” that draws Jo to farming on a mountain rather than the plains. “Harvesting from farmland takes just a few months,” he writes, “but harvesting from a mountain can take as long as 50 years, so it’s important to plan long-term. It also has a lower return rate per land area than farmland.”

His book also includes advice on how to buy real estate in the mountains. “It’s important to visit the site in person and check on the soil. The best time to visit is from late fall, when the leaves have fallen off the trees, to early spring. Some things to check for are the boundaries, slope and forestation of the mountain. Does the mountain have paths for you to walk through?”

Farming up high has its perks. “You rarely need to use fertilizer or pesticides on a mountain, so there is less work to do,” Jo explains. “You can also work in the shade with a cool breeze coming through every now and then.”

Jo grew up in Boeun County, North Chungcheong, where he graduated from the town’s agricultural high school. He started as a public forestry official in 1967 and became head of the Korea Forest Service in 2004.

In 2000, he bought 1,980 square meters (0.49 acres) of land in Geumsan County where he now grows potatoes, peppers, lettuce, sesame and blueberries with his wife, Jeong Jeom-sun.

On why he didn’t resettle in his hometown of Boeun County, Jo says, “I think you won’t have many problems if you find a region that’s a good match for your own situation, even if it’s not your hometown.”

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