Where can I buy weed in Seoul

Hansalim - cooperative for organic products

At the table, comrades!

Hansalim is one of the largest organic product cooperatives in the world and a mirror of the development of South Korea.


Text: Tobias Asmuth
Photography: Jun Michael Park



• If you drive from Seoul to Goesan, the navigation device will tell you as soon as the first fields appear that the region is famous for its agricultural products. Chilli peppers, grains and rice from Goesan are particularly valued all over Korea.

Kyung Dong Ho, 67, grows rice, millet and barley. “Our principle has always been not to just grow one fruit,” he says. For more than 30 years he has been a member of Hansalim (German: “Bewahre alles Lebendige”), one of the world's largest cooperatives for organic products. What began in 1986 as a local association of farmers in Goesan who were looking for buyers for their products in the cities developed into a cooperative with branches all over Korea. Today the cooperative has almost 2,300 farms and around 644,000 households; two million people receive regional products every day.

What makes Hansalim so attractive for farmers and consumers? If you let Kyung show you his fields, you will not only learn how he protects millet from birds and why barley is a grateful grain, but also learn a lot about the history of Hansalim. When he became a member in the late 1980s, protecting the environment was not an issue in Korea. Pesticides and herbicides were used safely in agriculture, harming farmers and their customers. In addition, scandals over imported food caused a sensation. Hansalim was the first supplier to meet the demand for regional and pesticide-free products. A starting advantage.

Farmers should provide healthy food, and customers in return ensure their livelihood - that is the basic idea of ​​the cooperative to this day. "Hansalim is a protective shield for us farmers," says Kyung. But the situation has become more complicated. The rate of growth has slowed down. And there is more competition from other suppliers of organic food, which is actually good. Kyung is more concerned about the zeitgeist: “The young people live alone and simply don't cook anymore.” The food should be healthy, but inexpensive. “We have to develop our offer further. We need companies in which finished products can be manufactured. "

Hansalim already owns processing plants for soy, rice and grain such as the Goesan Multigrain Farming Cooperation. In the factory, grain is dried, cleaned, stored, packed and shipped to the cities. As a rule, producers and consumers are jointly involved in the operations of the cooperative. Since the cooperative is not profit-oriented, surpluses are reinvested, for example in new machines. A joint advisory board decides on the investments. "On the free market, between 30 and 50 percent of the price goes into processing, sales and advertising," says Kyung, "with us it's five to seven percent."


This is one of the reasons for Hansalim's success: since there are no middlemen doing their job, the farmers can live from their work, and the buyers in the cities do not pay excessive prices.

The portraits of the two founders of the cooperative hang in front of Hansalim's offices on the fourth floor of a high-rise in Seoul. Under Park Jai Il's picture it says: "Cultivation and consumption are one and the same process." And under the portrait that Jang Il Soon shows is the line: "It is a universe in a grain of rice."

In this sentence Kim Ho-Ki, professor at the Institute for Social Sciences at Yonsei University in Seoul, sees an answer to the problems of the present: an unbounded capitalism, new nationalisms, the overexploitation of natural resources. Jang's most important thought is respect for all living things. This leads to an appeal for cooperation: “It's not about competition, but about community. A principle that is anchored in Asian philosophy. ”But Jang wants to protect individuality through the community, not replace it, says Kim. The principle of the cooperative is a "common individualism".


The townspeople help the farmers - and vice versa

“Rice is the essence of all other foods in Korea. Something like the seeds of our society, ”says Yoon Hyung Geun, 54, managing director at Hansalim. The rice price is therefore also the most important price. He is being fought hard for. For a year now, the farmers have been paying a little less, says Yoon. In the end, it was agreed that the cooperative needed more money for operating costs and investments.

Every year a committee decides on the earnings of the farmers and the prices for the products. In addition, there are monthly preparatory meetings between producers and consumers, at which both sides estimate the costs of the farmers and the burden on the buyer, evaluate the past harvest and make prognoses for the coming one.

At the beginning of Hansalim, the meetings were family-like, says Yoon. Many of the peasants and townspeople fought together against the dictatorship and for democracy. Today the mood is often tense. “Producers and consumers are actually more opponents than partners. Some want a lot of income and high prices, others good quality that should cost little. ”In the years of success, this capitalist logic has seeped into the cooperative. And so negotiations are much harder today than in the past, even before the actual meeting, backstage, so to speak. "We are still quite able to find compromises, that is, wages and prices that both sides agree with." In order for it to stay that way, mutual understanding is required. Yoon Hyung Geun and his around 200 employees want to ensure this in the simple open-plan office in Seoul. There they write newsletters and publish a monthly membership magazine, but above all they organize visits to farmers in Seoul, Busan or Gwangju and country parties for the townspeople. “People have to tell each other their stories,” says Yoon. In addition, his team answers questions from members over the phone, oversees the further development of the range and is working on its own seal of approval, which in future will also indicate the CO2 emissions associated with the production of the respective food.

A product is not just a product, but a process, says Yoon. The mission is to change the lifestyle through the products. “Korean society is changing now, the youngsters are giving up things that were taken for granted until recently, a lifelong job or a large family. Money can't buy these things, ”says Yoon. The economic crises of 1997 and 2008 had shaken belief in an eternal economic upswing, for which everyone would have to give everything. Hansalim, on the other hand, set the ideal: “Every life comes first.” Yoon quotes the philosopher Choe Je U, whose worldview Cheondogyo (The Heavenly Way) combines Confucian, shamanistic and Christian ideas, celebrates nature and inspired Hansalim's manifesto.

Koreans appreciate regional products ...

The farm of the family von Ahn Sang Hee, 70, who has been a member of Hansalim since it was founded in 1986, is located in one of the most beautiful valleys in Goesan. Ahn grew rice and raised pigs for a lifetime. Since he does not want to hand over the farm to his children (“They would only sell it in the end anyway”), he fulfilled an old dream in 2014 and founded what he calls a seed factory. At some point he might want to donate the 24,000 square meters to Hansalim. A group of supporters pays the wages for his two employees.


Because Korea industrialized late, many city dwellers are still conscious of rural life. If a new trade agreement with the US allows cheap agricultural products to be imported from there, not only farmers but also people in the metropolises worry.

"Today only about 30 percent of the seeds used come from Korea," says Ahn. “We now have to collect our native seeds so that we can still grow them tomorrow.” Hundreds of varieties, mainly rice and grain seeds, are stored in a chamber cooled to minus 20 degrees Celsius. Ahn receives them from farmers all over the country. He multiplies the seeds in order to obtain larger quantities, which he then exchanges with Hansalim companies.

Ahn leads through the fields that nestle against the slope of a small mountain. First a few rows of sesame bushes, between which it almost disappears, then the black beans, which should actually have already been harvested, but the summer was too dry, then the peanut bushes, millet, some date trees (“If you don't eat dates, you get old quickly “), Finally below the forest in a small depression the field with rice, a total of 17 different varieties, Ahn's special pride. His favorite is one with long red ears, robust, but fine-grained and delicate.

... and they love good food

Kwak Keum Soon, the managing director of the cooperative responsible for customers, invites you to the Hansang, which means "Hansalim's table". It is the first restaurant in Seoul that only cooks with the products of the cooperative. There is a porridge made from rice and vegetables, pancakes made from mung beans and sotbap: rice with lotus roots and seafood in an iron pot. Kwak has been with Hansalim almost from the start. She wanted to support the farmers who were in danger of falling by the wayside in South Korea's rapid development process, and she wanted healthy food for her family.

She helped to improve the transport of groceries to the cities, to open the first shops and to tailor the range to the wishes of the customers. She was elected to office seven years ago. Next year she will be giving up the post to which you can only be elected twice. She doesn't get a salary for her work, just an allowance.

Above all, your job means: listening. The cooperative members in the cities not only have a say in prices, but also in terms of product safety and environmental protection standards. Sometimes it is exhausting, she says. But being responsible for something together speaks to many people who are otherwise used to doing what they are told in the traditionally hierarchical society of Korea.

In Korea, too, people's demands on the world of goods are increasing, says Lee Hyung Seok, head of the Korea Social Management Institute. “People want to be satisfied not only physically, but also psychologically. They are convinced that companies not only strive for profit, but should also have a social function in society. "Hansalim fits this change in awareness:" People don't just buy good quality rice or vegetables, they buy an experience. You are part of a movement. "

The cooperative is also successful because Koreans love good food and are willing to pay for enjoyment. Word has got around that the cooperative delivers quality. Hansalim never advertised, says Kwak. “We have relied on us to convince people who will then tell other people about us.” Thousands of new members join the cooperative every year. However, the growth is not big enough to take in all the farmers who want to produce for Hansalim. In order to increase sales, people who are not members of Hansalim have also been able to shop in the stores for two years. You have to pay 10 percent more for the products.


Dropouts strengthen the cooperative

Since the establishment of the cooperative, the number of farmers has also decreased in Goesan, but new ones have been added for some time. Park Ho Chul, 34, starts his day at nine o'clock when he meets with colleagues in the fields of the Ahn Sang Hee seed manufacturers and they discuss what needs to be done. At the moment it is mainly weeding. At eleven o'clock there is a short break - “mainly to have a sip of makgeolli (Korean rice wine)” - then the soil around the sesame bushes is loosened. At 1 p.m. they eat, mostly in the field, where they take a little nap and then work until 7 a.m.

Park wears a ponytail, laughs a lot, and likes to talk about his work. He and his wife Kim Hye Sung, 35, moved here from Seoul three years ago. Since their wedding in 2013, the two members of Hansalim and are looking, as they say. You belong to a generation who care about ecology and who are disillusioned with the consequences of the economic crisis in 2008 and the rule of the authoritarian President Park, who was deposed two years ago for corruption. “Just competition and even more competition, that wears you out,” says Kim, who worked as a kindergarten teacher in Seoul.

When the two of them took part in a course for hobby gardeners in Goesan in 2016, they were so fascinated by work and nature that they stayed. Park began training as a farmer, and Kim has been selling vegetables in the local Hansalim store ever since.

With the seed manufacturer Ahn Sang Hee, Park has a sponsor who not only shows him which fruit comes on which field at what time, but also helps the two townspeople to find their way into the village community. “Community is actually the core of Korean agriculture,” Park learned.

How does he envision the future of the cooperative? Park takes its time with the answer: “There are more and more farmers who want to join Hansalim. I can understand that. With a lot of effort, you grow a fruit in the largest possible fields. If the harvest fails, you can quickly find yourself in debt. If that happens twice, in the end. "

In order to become a comrade, the farmers must submit an application for membership and undertake to operate organically in a certification process. That means: doing without chemicals, avoiding waste and conserving resources. Then you need patience, because there are waiting lists. The reason: the farmers shouldn't compete with their offer, there shouldn't be any overproduction.

The differences in income can also be large at Hansalim, "depending on how many fields you have," says Park. But thanks to the price guarantee, everyone would have a solid income. He often talks to his colleagues about the future. Many are in favor of gaining more customers and therefore also doing advertising. But he is of the opinion that the cooperative should not continue to grow: "I think the philosophy of Hansalim can only tolerate a certain size." ---

“Preserve all living things” - the story of Hansalim

The cooperative has its roots in the protests against the dictatorship of Chun Doo Hwan. In the mid-1980s, farmers in a difficult economic situation turned to townspeople. Her cry for help was: “Save your dining table! Save us farmers! ”Goesan, where the cooperative was founded in 1986, is still the center of the cooperative. Around 240 companies work there for Hansalim. In 1989 the statutes were laid down in a manifesto. The two most important are: solidarity between town and country and protection of the environment. In the following years, the cooperative grew rapidly, especially on the consumer side: in 1995 it was 10,000, in 2009 it was 200,000, in 2015 almost 500,000, and currently it is 644,000. 2,400 farms throughout Korea produce for them. In 2015, Hansalim opened its own food safety analysis center. Hansalim is also committed to healthy eating and social issues abroad (including aid deliveries to North Korea, Haiti, Afghanistan and Nepal).

Rapid development - the economy of South Korea

Up until the 1960s, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world, with almost 70 percent of the population making a living from agriculture and animal husbandry. Then came an astonishing change: South Korea first developed into an emerging country, then into a much-noticed “tiger state” and finally into a modern industrial nation. The development was promoted from 1963 by the dictatorial ruling President Park Chung Hee. State support for certain branches of the economy produced the so-called Jaebol, large company conglomerates often run by family clans such as Hyundai, Kia, LG and Samsung. So that the economy continues to grow, the state is investing in the expansion of a modern infrastructure. The former recipient country South Korea has been one of the donor countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) since 2010. Today agriculture hardly plays a role economically. Its share of the gross national product is less than two percent, and just under five percent of people are employed in agriculture.