When we look back on our year of travel, without a doubt one of the highlights will be the time we spent with Young-Jae, Hoon, and their son on their pig farm. Their farm is beautiful and they were incredibly generous in sharing their culture and introducing us to all sorts of delicious Korean food we would never have tried otherwise.
Hoon and Young-Jae run a pig farm in the idyllic countryside south of Seoul. They have lots of pigs, six female goats, three dogs, and a bunch of chickens. There were pigs ranging in age from three years to three days old! Young-Jae told us she was inspired to raise pigs after seeing the PETA documentary, « Meet Your Meat » which depicts the cruel treatment of animals in most industrial meat processing. She named their farm Jayeonttara which means « by nature » and aims to give their animals a different, happier experience.
Hoon picked us up at the Janghowon bus terminal with his truck. He drove us back to his farm stopping at a checkpoint outside the farm to have the tires sprayed and his shoes disinfected. African Swine Fever had just been reported on some pig farms in South Korea, and they were trying to prevent it from spreading to their farm. For some reason, our shoes did not need to be disinfected, so we are not entirely clear on the rules for the prevention protocol.
At the farm, Young-Jae welcomed us warmly into the house and introduced us to their son, Cheonggye. They showed us our room and offered us coffee and a cream-filled bread Young-Jae had made. This was the start of an amazing five days where we were showered with Hoon and Young-Jae’s generosity in exchange for what seemed to us like very little work.
When we first arrived we went over the WWOOFers contract which is required for participation in WWOOF Korea. Young-Jae outlined the hours we would work: roughly six hours a day. In reality, we worked far less than this on the five days we were there. We started work most days between 10am and 10:30am, worked until 11:15am when we took a coffee break, then worked a bit more until lunch around 12pm. After lunch we would start work between 2pm and 2:30pm and we were usually finished by 4pm when Hoon and Young-Jae had to leave to pick up Cheonggye from school.
During these windows of work, we had very manageable tasks. For example, on the first day we removed all the little paper bags from the peach trees. Unfortunately, this year the peaches had a pest, and in an effort to protect the fruit, Hoon and Young-Jae had covered all of their peaches in these yellow paper bags. It did not work, so all the peaches died and the trees were littered with paper bags that now needed to be taken down one at a time. We also helped rake soil over barley seeds that Hoon had sprinkled over freshly turned dirt in two large fields.
We helped feed the pigs first by gathering all of the persimmons that had fallen from the persimmon tree and throwing them into the pig pen. Then we filled 5-gallon buckets with rice bran which we poured into the large fermentation machine in which Hoon can ferment two days worth of food for the pigs. When it was time to feed the pigs, we filled seven buckets on a wagon with fermented rice bran and took it to the pig barn. There, Hoon would hand us each a bucket to pour for the pigs.
Afterwards, we would help milk Pando, the only one of the six goats that was not pregnant. Hoon has a milking machine which does most of the work, so we watched until it came time to pour the milk into the pan to bring into the house.
In the meantime, Young-Jae made us delicious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in between helping out on the farm and taking lots of photos. We could not believe the variety and quality of food Young-Jae and Hoon shared with us. They introduced us to gimbap which is Korea’s version of sushi. You roll rice, meat, and kimchi (really whatever you want) in a small square of seaweed and eat it. They served us each a large piece of raw salmon on top of a bed of greens. We had homemade beef bulgogi. They taught us how to make a version of spring rolls with duck, carrots, peppers, onions, lettuce, and three sauces. They also took us out to eat twice in five days! We loved it, of course, but it was definitely unnecessary.
We found it hard to help very much inside the house. Young-Jae would not let us do any of the dishes, telling us instead we should rest. We would try to help wherever we could, by clearing the table if we could get away with it, or playing with Cheonggye while Young-Jae cooked, but it still did not feel like much in exchange for the comfortable room and amazing food they were giving us.
On our second day at the farm, it poured with rain because Typhoon Mitag was passing by. It was projected to dump 4 – 12 inches of rain on Jeju Island which was pretty far away from us, but still meant a lot of rain in our area. Mitag was the seventh typhoon to hit South Korea this season, so Young-Jae said they did not need to do anything special to prepare – she had already done it before the first one. We dug up the old asparagus bed and moved it to the vegetable garden and cut the wood that had been used to box the asparagus bed into firewood with a chain saw. Around 3pm, Young-Jae announced that they were going to the laundromat because it was raining, so we should give them our laundry and rest until they came back.
We were doing our usual chores – catching up on blogging, learning Japanese, and programming the latest building design tool – so we did not realize an extremely long time had passed. We were starting to get hungry, though, and were wondering if something had happened to them. They were usually back long before now. Eric checked his email and discovered something had happened! Unfortunately Cheonggye had a bad stomachache and had to be taken to the hospital. Young-Jae had sent us three emails in which she gave progressive updates on the situation, ending with « we will be very late. Eat everything. » We ate some ramen we had brought with some ham, onions, and garlic we found in her kitchen. We were ready to go to bed when Hoon came home with two boxes of fried chicken. We stayed up a bit longer to eat with him. Young-Jae and Cheonggye were spending the night in the hospital.
While we were eating, Hoon was trying to explain something which came through the translator as « South Korea is the name of the South Korean peninsula ». We were pretty sure that tantalizing fact was not what he was trying to share with us, so we asked again. Eventually we figured out that « Pando » means « peninsula », and the goat is named Pando because she has a mark the shape of the Korean peninsula on her side!
In the morning, Hoon made us a rice and seaweed breakfast, showed us a pile of branches he wanted broken up into foot-long sticks for fire kindling, and did some other chores around the farm. He came back around lunch time and took us out for hot pot. It came with a mountain of vegetables, pork, noodles, dumplings, rice, an egg, and kimchi. We cooked the vegetables and the pork in the broth first. Afterwards, Hoon put in the noodles and dumplings to cook. When those were finished, he stirred the rice into the broth and cracked an egg into it to make a thick porridge. It was some of the most delicious hot pot we have tried and an amazing treat.
When we got back to the house, we helped Hoon milk Pando and then continued breaking branches into sticks for the rest of the afternoon. Hoon set us up for dinner before going back to the hospital. He left a small cooking stove with a plate of lettuces, some mushrooms, and our first taste of the farm’s pork! We had a great time cooking on this little stove and the pork was delicious! We also enjoyed the bottle of soju he left us.
On the fourth day, Hoon made us breakfast and went to get Young-Jae and Cheonggye from the hospital. Cheonggye was completely fine and bouncing off the walls when he got back. Hoon told us he needed to go get more pork and we should come with him. This seemed like an odd thing to do since they were the pork farm, but we jumped in the truck. Eventually we arrived at a warehouse and realized we were going to pick up more rice bran for the pigs (pig food = pork!). He did not really need our help as there is a forklift that picks up the enormous bags and loads them into the truck for him. We think he just wanted to get us out of the house for a bit.
Back at the house we watched while Hoon moved the huge bags of rice bran into the garage with his tractor. Pando tried to help as usual. We sowed some more barley and raked the dirt over it to cover it. Then we sprinkled some limestone on the driveway as a sanitizer to help protect against African Swine Fever. We fed the pigs and milked Pando and our work was done for the day.
That evening, there was a local market, so we got in the truck and went into town. The truck can only hold three, so the two of us rode in the bed of the truck until we were in town and then Young-Jae called a taxi to take us to the market. At the market we tried fish cakes wrapped around cheese and fish cakes wrapped around hot dogs. The cheese ones were better. We wandered through the market looking at all the stalls. After a while, Young-Jae asked if we could eat lamb skewers for dinner. Of course! They took us to a Chinese restaurant and ordered tons of food. We had lots of these tiny lamb skewers which were cooked directly in front of us on this automatic spit machine over charcoal. When the lamb skewers were finished, we roasted garlic over the coals. We tried a salad with strips of tofu, a pork dish we rolled in flat pieces of tofu, and a chicken dish with lots of vegetables. We could not believe how much food they ordered, but it was so delicious, we could not stop eating.
On our last day, we had asked Hoon and Young-Jae if we could leave after lunch. There wasn’t really work to do in the morning other than feeding the animals, so we followed Cheonggye around feeding each of them in turn. Young-Jae followed us around taking pictures. Then we led the goats up the hill to munch on some grass. It did not really seem like the goats needed leading, but we did it anyway, with Young-Jae photographing away. We took the goats to the mulberry trees where they tried to climb up to eat as many mulberries as they could. Then we went to the garden to pick some lettuce for lunch, and the goats thought that looked like a good lunch for them too. Hoon did not seem too worried about the goats eating the garden.
It is clear Hoon and Young-Jae love their animals. They have one pig named Orion who they could not bear to part with, so he is raised separately from the Korean black pigs they raise for meat. The meat pigs get persimmons from the nearby persimmon tree and are lovingly fed fermented rice bran every day. The pigs get super excited any time they think you might be coming with food and run around snorting and yelling very loudly.
The goats range freely during the day and get up to all sorts of mischief. Pando, the obvious favorite, is often found eating the fermented pig food or trying to sneak into the goats’ grain bin. Hoon usually just pats Pando on the nose or the rump to get her to stop. Pando seems to be learning that she is part of the family, though, and has figured out how to open the screen door to come into the house.
After lunch, Young-Jae told us we could not all fit in the truck, so Hoon would take her and Cheonggye to the bus terminal and then come back for us. We thought it was very nice of them to want to see us off on the bus. When we arrived at the station, Young-Jae had already purchased our bus tickets to Seoul, and she would not accept any money for them! We told her they had been extremely generous and we did not feel we had done nearly enough work to warrant this generosity. She explained that it was very helpful to have two extra sets of hands. The work we had done would have taken them at least twice as long to do without us. She was not done with gifts yet though. While we were waiting for Hoon to come and get us, she and Cheonggye had printed out all the photos she had taken while we were working. There are so many photos and it makes it look like we did a huge amount of work!
That afternoon, we took the bus to Seoul and checked into our motel north of the city. We had had an extraordinarily hard time booking a place for a reasonable price and eventually figured out it was because it was the last night of the International Fireworks Festival in Seoul. The fireworks were a very nice way for Seoul to welcome us to the city.