It’s likely that many expats living in the middle of Seoul miss going to farmers’ markets just like the ones at home; walking through various food stalls and having a chitchat with sellers and buyers on a lazy Sunday. I was one of them, too. Until I found Marche@. This Korean version of the farmer’s market has been providing consumers with organic produce since the end of 2012, so I decided it was high time to sit down with its founder, Suhyang Kim, to chat natural foods and the origins of the monthly affair.
Chincha: Can you tell us about Marche@?
Sukyang Kim: It’s a market space where people talk about food and interact with each other. Food isn’t just produce to be sold here, but also the subject of a conversation. We believe that when farmers meet chefs a different situation than you might expect is naturally created. This is the concept of Marche@. If you come to Marche@ you will see what I’m saying; it’s more like a plaza for people who are food lovers and are willing to share with other people.
What inspired you initially?
It’s a pretty long story. When the nuclear disaster happened in Japan, I was living in Yokohama which is 250km away from Fukushima, but it still freaked me out; especially when I found Caesium in water or radioactive substances on vegetables. That was the moment when I saw organic food in a completely different way. Before the disaster, whenever I thought about organic food, I didn’t consider the energy that is used to produce “organic food.” I didn’t really care what kind of energy was used to grow it, how it was delivered and so on. However, after the disaster, I started caring about what kind of energy was used to grow potatoes, salad leaves, tomatoes and whatever. So it is very natural for me to seek a place where I can get my own veggies. In fact, I run a small cafe in Hongdae that is known for organic dishes. So I need “the real organic food.”
Two other women run Marche@ with you. How did you meet them and what was the hardest part in forming this organization?
It was not as challenging as you might think. I think it’s because we were naturally pulled to each other by one solid purpose: to share legitimate organic food with other people.
When I visited a rooftop garden in Mullae a couple of years ago, I met Boeun Lee who is the organizer of the rooftop garden community in Seoul. We were destined to be in that place at that time. There were already a lot of food geeks hanging around who were keen to share healthy, real organic food. Afterwards, everything just came along as it was supposed to. She tossed in the idea of throwing a farmer’s market in the middle of Seoul. Of course, I loved that idea as I truly enjoy getting my groceries at local markets. (Going to a local market is on my must-do list for overseas trips.) The next chapter was, we ended up getting to know another lady who is an “ex-farmer.” Since we were all together, we decided to team up for the sake of organic food for Seoulites.
How do you contact new participants? Are they rotated regularly or do you select them each time?
There’s already many people around us who see the real value of hand-grown organic food and do it themselves. Approximately 60~70 groups participate and of them, 10 are less regular for personal reasons. So it’s not that difficult to have people participate in Marche@. On the contrary, we realized there are more people out there who are eager to participate in Marche@. So we finally decided to expand it.
When I visited the market, it was 1pm, but it was already closing down because many stalls had sold out. Did you expect that it would be so popular?
It’s way more popular than we expected. Ok, let me tell you an episode. It was on our 4th market. I even remember the time. It was 11:04 am because the opening time is 11:00 am. However, there were already so many people packed in the venue. We were freaked out. That’s how we felt. Yes, we were freaked out. They were just all about buying goods instead of communicating with sellers and buyers. Even the participants themselves didn’t get a chance to look at other participant’s stuff. That’s when we agreed on the idea of expanding the market to meet the demand of more people.
What’s been your most exciting moment?
Probably, the very first event. Before the first event actually happened, all we could do was imagine a situation. The first day we witnessed exactly what we pictured. It was like a dream come true. People were having conversations about food – what they were buying and selling. They were smiling and so were we.
What would you like to achieve? Do you have an ultimate goal?
We hope Marche@ will be a good chance for people to show and share their talents at growing and making organic food. For example, a person who makes homemade jam but doesn’t really know where to show it off; we always welcome those people. Although the space is unfortunately limited. That’s why we are branching out! Also it would be really awesome if people got to know and learn about each other while hanging out at Marche@.
The next monthly Marche@ is Sunday June 9th at Artisthouse, Hyewha (line 4; exit 2) from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. Here’s a map we found via vegan food blogger Mipa Lee.
Interview by Jay Gye
Photographs by Sekyo Lee