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Published : 2014-03-28 21:32
Updated : 2014-04-01 20:59

Organic foods are neither far from home nor prohibitively pricy anymore.

With growing popularity of urban farming, local food markets are mushrooming in metropolitan cities offering better access to healthy, safe and quality agricultural products.

Behind the boom are support from government, dedicated communities and consumers increasingly aware of the environment and more sensitive about what they eat in the wake of a series of bad food scandals.

Sing Sing Dream, which opened last year in Gangdong-gu, eastern Seoul, was the first local organic food market established by a district office. It directly connects urban farmers and customers in the district.

Farmers bring products that they cultivated on their own farms in the city limits and determine the prices on their own every morning. The items are transported no more than 5 kilometers as they are all grown by the local community. Because no transportation costs are involved, the products are 30 percent cheaper, according to the district office’s data.

“For urban farmers, it’s crucial to have an opportunity to sell their agricultural products. Direct sales without any distribution processes were unimaginable until Sing Sing Dream opened,” said Park Heung-suk, who has served as the farmers’ representative for about a year. “Profits are not huge but it does support us.”

As of last year, around 250 local residents visited the market daily, resulting in about 1 million won ($930) of earnings a day, a district official said. The prices are so low that people usually spend only 5,000 won at a time, the official added.

Once farmers bring their products to the market in the morning, district officials conduct a product safety examination to check for agricultural chemicals. Only products that receive environment-friendly certificates can be sold. The certificates are given when no agricultural pesticides have been used or when only a minimum amount of chemical fertilizer has been used.

“(Our district’s initiative) is also stimulating the growth of environmentally friendly farmers. There were only around 30 farms that pursued environment-friendly certificates in the beginning. But now there are over 50 of these farms in the community,” said district official Kim Jong-gun, who is in charge of managing local farms.

The Seoul city government has also created opportunities for urban farmers to connect directly with customers. From April to October, the city holds a farmers’ market in three locations every weekend. Over 100 farms participate in the event to promote and sell their organic, locally grown products at low prices.

Various cooperative federations also help local organic food markets prosper.

Hansalim, established in 1986 is one of about 200 cooperatives that pursue a direct exchange of environmentally friendly products between farmers and customers.

With a motto of co-prosperity between suppliers and customers and safe products, Hansalim markets have attracted some 420,000 members so far, leading to 21 Hansalim branches across the country.

“The number of members increases by 15 to 20 percent every year, which suggests that more people are becoming interested in safe, local food,” said a Hansalim official. “We don’t spend our budget on advertising because we don’t pursue profits.”

The earnings surpassed 300 billion won last year. With a membership fee of only 30,000 won, anyone can join the federation and purchase items at any Hansalim branch in the country. Nonmembers are only allowed to visit the market in April, when the union holds an open market event.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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