“Lotus Root Farmer” Kim Dong-Woo of Season’s Table at “Lotus Village” Like Strong Lotus Roots Growing Under Our Ground
Icheon of Gyeonggi-do has always been a place where a variety of agricultural products grow thanks to clean water from the South Han River, clean soil, and clean air. Icheon's agricultural products, including Icheon rice, were often served to the king.
The pride of Icheon that grows lives has been continuing these days. Season’s Table that promotes the importance of seasonal ingredients from our land acknowledges the value of Korea’s valuable agricultural products.
Farming, The Path I Found After Failure
On vast farming land of approximately 40,000 pyeong (one pyeong: 3.954 sq. yds.), a farmer can be found who tells farming stories, saying, “Here is a place where garlic seeds have been planted,” “As it is fall now, lotus leaves are falling but lotus roots are growing under the ground,” and “I sowed green onion seeds in that field.”
The farmer’s appearance gave off a feeling of strong dedication! A deep-rooted love for fields is emitted from “Lotus Village,” the agricultural cooperative of Kim Dong-Woo, a farmer who grows eco-friendly agricultural products.
A smiling farmer with burdock against the backdrop of a green wave in a picture that you first come across at CJ Season’s Table restaurants and website is farmer Kim Dong-Woo at “Lotus Village.”
Kim Dong-Woo, who became a messenger who delivers the health of seasonal ingredients of our land as the face of Season’s Table, said that he never expected to become a farmer.
“In the mid-1990s, when I failed in business, my oldest brother advised me to try farming. My family originally worked in the sericultural sector while raising cocoons. My oldest brother was a sericultural specialist and many of my friends were farmers. After pondering for a long time, I decided to go back to this town for faming,” Kim said.
“The recommended crop was lotus roots. Lotus roots were high value-added agricultural products. Growing lotus roots was labor-intensive work such as hand-picking lotus roots to prevent lotus roots from being damaged. But the work was also worth it. “
Searching for Natural Cultivation Methods
For the first two to three years, Kim used chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and other pesticides just like other farmers. But one day when Kim saw a spray of herbicides kill off weeds which he tried to pull up with his hands, he thought that the method was not quite right.
“I weighed how to grow lotus roots without using fertilizers and pesticides for the environment and the human being.” Kim said. “Chemical fertilizers and herbicides are really powerful. Chemical fertilizers allow clean and big lotus roots to grow well and chemical pesticides comprehensively remove weeds that had kept growing no matter how hard we had tried to pull them up.”
“Is this a proper and natural method? Of course not,” Kim thought. “In particular, lotus roots are a root plant, which made me worry about residual pesticides. Pesticides on leaves can be washed off when it rains but pesticides absorbed into the ground infiltrate into their roots.”.
Kim tried various farming methods that did not resort to using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and devoted himself to nurturing environmentally-friendly agricultural products. As luck would have it, the Life Cooperative and Hansalim selling eco-friendly farming products among others started to buy lotus roots from Lotus Village. They also began to be supplied as a food ingredient for eco-friendly school meals.
“I have used a pond snail farming method to clear weeds by putting pond snails into lotus root field, and boosted the power of soil by using manure instead of chemical fertilizers,” Kim said. Three years after sowing lotus seeds, the field becomes fertile. Lotus roots formed deep under the ground and lotus leaves and branches played the roles of natural fertilizers.
“I think it is a job of farmers to watch for and help nature grow its crops well during that time by using patience. We can farm faster and make crops bigger with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but that is against the natural order,” Kim added.
Various Ways to Enjoy Lotus Roots while Searching for Taste, Nutrition and Pleasure
Kim has made efforts to bring the power of our agricultural products to his homeland while cultivating lotus roots via environmentally-friendly farming methods. He centered on a value of CJ Season’s Table which conveys the importance of seasonal ingredients via tastes and began to supply Lotus Village’s eco-friendly lotus roots to Season’s Table restaurants in the autumn of 2013.
“When I see a photo with my face on the entrance to a Season’s Table restaurant, I feel a little bit shy and awkward. But when I see customers who enjoy delicious food made with eco-friendly lotus roots cultivated by our Lotus Village Agricultural Cooperative, once in a while, suddenly, I want to strike up a conversation with some of them,” Kim said.
“I am curious about how they enjoyed lotus roots that I grew. I also want to tell them how I grew them, when I harvested them and what kind of mindset I had when I grew them. Lotus Village’s connection with Season’s Table is a precious memory to me.”
Lotus Village is also popular as a destination of a farming experience course for Season’s Table customers. Some parents who came to the village with their children enjoyed picking lotus roots even more than their children did. Kim realized how rewarding his life was as a farmer while watching them pick lotus roots and walking around the farm.
“But I do have some things that I feel sad about. I feel sorry to see white bleached lotus roots from China in the market after a big inflow of cheap foodstuffs from China,” Kim said. As I told you earlier, eating lotus roots from China may have a risk of still having residual pesticides in them.”
“It would be better to eat eco-friendly lotus roots which absorbed the energy of our land. It is very sad to see consumers choose Chinese lotus roots because they are low priced or it is easy to clean them. “
Nowadays, the younger generation does not eat rice as much as the older generation, sparking off a sharp decline in the consumption of other agricultural products. Aside from this, imported agricultural products are threatening Korean agricultural products in the market. Kim studies and produces various lotus root processed foods in order to wisely contend with such developments of this era.
Lotus Village’s lotus root processed foods include lotus root powder, lotus root chips, lotus cookies, hard-boiled lotus roots, dried lotus roots, boiled rice wrapped in lotus leaves and more. Kim is also continuing to muse over the future of lotus roots and undertake new efforts for their better future.
“Until now, the added value of lotus roots has been so high that mere production of lotus roots has been able to be profitable. But we cannot survive through simple production of lotus roots any longer as the consumption of rice and the time of having meals together with family members at home are on the decline,” Kim said.
“We are now producing a variety of processed foods using lotus roots. But we would like to make everyday goods and beauty products loaded with lotus roots and lotus leaves in the future.”
“My biggest goal is to supply our Yeonipbap (boiled rice wrapped in lotus leaves) to airliners as an in-flight meal,” Kim added. “If our Yeonipbap is served as an in-flight meal whose hygiene and safety are more important than any other food, the food will be able to satisfy passengers around the world.”
Always Working Hard Like a Lotus
About 20 years ago, Kim harvested a large volume of burdocks and received many calls to order them. It was early autumn when Kim was close to harvesting fully-grown burdocks on land of approximately 30,000 pyeong.
Lotus Village was hit by an unexpected flood in the southern part of Gyeonggi Province and Chungcheong Province. The rough water swept away all burdocks from the land. There just remained a muddy field.
“Looking at the field where nothing was left, I said to myself ‘I've been so greedy!’” Kim said. “I regretted it a lot. Since then, I have not farmed to earn more money. I did not make excessive profits when burdock prices soared and a drop in prices of burdocks did not bother me.”
“I decided to pay attention to how healthy our crops were. I made up my mind to live like crops which not overgrow but grow steadily and silently,” Kim said.
Kim’s smile was slow but retains the simple value of nature. Kim’s life touches people through land where he and his family live and work and a pure passion to convey the power and value of the land to more people through farming products cultivated by them. Farmer Kim’s life made a strong impression which resembles a sweet lotus flower.