When Seoul’s mayor Park Won-soon decided to open the farmer’s market as one of his urban farming initiatives, he tapped Cheon Ho-gyun, CEO of Ssamzie Farmer (쌈지농부), to lead the initiative. If the name Ssamzie sounds familiar, you might recognize it from the spiral-shaped shopping center in Insa-dong bearing the same name. In fact, Ssamzie Farmer is part of a constellation of organic restaurants and shops (including Farming is Art, a shop in Heyri). The Seoul Farmers Market is a natural extension of the growing organic movement in Korea.
The market, newly opened on June 2nd, is nestled in a shady square on the northeast corner of Gwanghwamun Plaza. The signage all bears the signature handwritten text of the Ssamzie stores. Everything here is organic and produced in Korea (with the exception of a stand from the Asia Fair Trade Network). There are no middlemen here, so you not only know where your food is coming from, you can meet the people who produced it.
The farmers represent a variety of produce and provinces. Basic goods like brown eggs wrapped in straw, fresh greens, carrots, hand-pressed tofu, dried seaweed (김) and tiny tomatoes, amongst much more, are actually quite reasonably priced. A group of college students brought salad greens and peppers that they’d picked at dawn that very morning from their garden patch “just over on that mountain over there.” (One bag, 2,000 won.) Another farmer offered dried persimmons and packages of fermented bean stock (청국장), describing his wares in the lilting tones of Gyeongsangnam-do. Kim Uei-sook, Executive Director at Experience Green Growth, a government-sponsored environmental education center, stood at a table displaying a variety of vegetables and yellow melons. She explained that each farm stand applied to and was vetted through Ssamzie Farmer and that she had come on behalf of her parents. They have a small farm in the green belt just outside of Seoul.
In addition to more standard grocery options, specialty items are also available. The omija drink for sale here was made over the course of three years, soaking in earthenware pots—which (as the omija-maker herself explained) is much healthier for your internal organs than plasticware-fermented omija. Other specialty items include un-skinned cashews from Vietnam (fair trade), enormous ddeokbokki on a stick slathered in spicy-sweet sauce, gimbap made with colorful rices, spicy kimchi crepes, and icy persimmon smoothies to take the edge off the heat.
The best part of all this is, of course, the eating. Several picnic tables and chairs sit in the center of the market, under a leafy canopy. It’s the perfect place to munch on your purchases while people-watching.
If you go:
Seoul Farmers Market is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday through October 20 in Gwanghwamun Citizen’s Park (광화문 시민열린마당), adjacent to Gwanghwamun Square. See here for a map and visit the website (Korean).
Mipa Lee of Alien’s Day Out also wrote about the Seoul Farmers Market here—check out her lovely photos!