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Hort in the Home Landscape

A blog devoted to sharing timely horticulture topics and answering the questions of gardeners and homeowners.
2014-09-24 19 43 58
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2014 Korean Master Gardener International Conference

Posted by Candice Hart - Programs

Travel truly can open up one's eyes to a completely different world and can be life-changing. This certainly was my experience when I visited South Korea this past month. I saw many great and inspiring things occurring in this country.

How did I end up in South Korea, you make ask? Well, earlier this year I sent in a proposal to speak at the 2014 Korean Master Gardener International Conference to be held at GyeongGi-do Agricultural Research and Extension Services (GARES) in South Korea. And my proposal was accepted! So on September 21, I made the 13 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea to attend the conference and give my presentation on 'Partnering to Create Youth Gardens'.

The idea to start a Korean Master Gardener program was passed along by Dr. Ann who at the time was a grad student at University of Kentucky. Ann was a native of South Korea and learned about the Master Gardener program here in the U.S. and thought that it would be an excellent program to bring to South Korea. A partnership was formed and now South Korea has volunteers who have been trained and are making a difference in their communities. Several representatives from GARES have also attended master gardener conferences here in the U.S. and following that, decided to hold an international conference of their own this year.

The first Korean Master Gardener conference was held at GARES, which is a research station about an hour south of Seoul, the capital city. GARES conducts research on a variety of agricultural crops in Korea like rice, roses, fruit trees, cacti and succulents to name a few. They are continually producing new varieties and technologies to help improve agricultural production in South Korea. Many of the directors and researchers at GARES were our personal interpreters, tour guides, and confidants throughout the conference and I can't thank them enough. They were the most amazing hosts and every single person we met was incredibly nice and grateful to have us there. I can't say enough about everyone involved with this conference.

The conference consisted of 2 days of presentations and demonstrations, including a Jr. Master Gardener Demonstration, kitchen garden design contest, poster sessions, and a welcome dinner and celebration with the most expansive offering of food I've ever experienced! I would estimate that there were about 100-125 people in attendance at the conference, with about 20 of us from the U.S. in attendance. Speakers came from Germany, Japan, and various U.S. states to speak at the conference including Illinois, Kentucky, Washington, Ohio, Nebraska, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Following the conference, 2 days of tours were planned. We visited numerous community gardens in the GyeongGi-doarea, two different school and youth gardens, a traditional open-air market, and a Korean folk village. It was great to learn more about the history of Korea and gain some insight into gardening practices there.

The part of South Korea we were in was very urban. The city of Seoul is the 3rd largest metropolitan area in the world with over 25 million people. High rise apartment buildings are a very common sight in every direction you look. And because of the majority of people are living in apartments, residents don't have much space in which to garden in. You could see just driving around the city, that residents would take any available plot of land and create a garden on it though. Even along the roadways, food production was anywhere possible. Because of this, the community gardening concept was pretty popular there as well.

A large theme of the conference was focused on urban agriculture and horticulture, as one of the goals of GARES is to promote and educate more urban farmers. It was interesting to learn more about this topic and hear about the tension arising between the rural and urban farmers. Apparently, the rural farmers are concerned about the growing urban farming movement. One speaker informed us that if Seoul had to live off its current food supply, they could only survive for 3-4 days. So I'm not sure that the tension is really warranted, because there seems to be plenty of need for more food production to go around.

Reusing any materials they could was also very common in the gardens we saw. Containers could be made out of whatever materials were available, like plastic bags or Styrofoam shipping containers.

The plant life in South Korea was quite similar to what we have here in Illinois because they have a similar hardiness zone to us. Many of the vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers they grew we could also grow here in Illinois. A few crops that were interesting to me included the jujube fruit tree, which tasted like a miniature apple, and I noticed a lot of sweet persimmon trees, which weren't quite ready to harvest yet at the time. The fields looked just a bit different as well, as their main field crop is rice. They also had an interesting way of staking their trees throughout the city which seemed a little overkill and labor intensive. But I'm sure they have due cause to do it that way.

Overall, I still kind of get chills thinking about what a great experience this trip was. I am very thankful to the organizers of the trip and to my administration for allowing me to make this wonderful, enlightening trip. Now I can't wait till my next opportunity to experience a new country and way of growing!

More photos can be viewed here:

I also created a movie documenting the experience here:

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