SPECIAL FEATURE

Gangwon Province:
Land of Mountains, Myths and Memories
SPECIAL FEATURE 4 A Livelihood Built in a Clean Environment

Most of its land mountainous and the temperature lower than in other parts of Korea,
Gangwon Province has specialized in highland agriculture, livestock farming and forestry. Another axis of the region’s economy is tourism, which is flourishing thanks to its plentiful environmental resources,
such as the beauty of the mountains and rivers and the clear sea off a long stretch of coastline.

Owing to its geographical and climatic features, Gangwon Province has become known for its highland agriculture. Including cabbages and white radishes, the vegetables produced in the fields at some 600 to 800 meters above sea level are sold nationwide, accounting for over 90 percent of the national market.


Different terrains and climates create different living environments. Gangwon Province, located in the northeastern part of South Korea, features a dominantly hilly terrain and a relatively cooler climate. Here, about 81 percent of the land is covered with mountains, a notably higher rate than the nationwide average of 63 percent. The presence of mountains in all directions has had a considerable influence on the local way of life and shaped the industrial structure of the province.
Unlike the central and southern parts of the Korean peninsula, where the proportion of rice paddies to dry fields is similar or slightly higher, the mountainous northeastern province relies heavily on dry farming and is rich in underground resources. With many of its mountains designated as national parks, including Mt. Seorak, Mt. Chiak and Mt. Taebaek, Gangwon has also developed a thriving tourism industry. Set in the bosom of nature, just one or two hours from the capital area, the province is thronged with tourists, especially in autumn when the mountains are covered in vibrant reds and yellows, and in winter when the snow-covered mountains offer the joys of skiing and sledding. Thanks to this blessed natural environment, Pyeongchang won the bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The province is not all about mountains, however, for the clean waters of the East Sea are just as much a part of its identity. For those who live on the shore, the sea is their livelihood.

The cattle breed native to Korea, called hanu, graze on pastures from late May to mid-November, and then feed on grain in barns for the rest of the year. Korean beef produced in Gangwon Province is famous for its flavor and tenderness.

Highland Agriculture in Cool Mountains
Gangwon Province covers an area of 16,874 km², about 17 percent of South Korean territory. In terms of size, it is the second-largest after North Gyeongsang Province, but its roughly 1.55 million inhabitants account for a mere three percent of the national population, with only the island province of Jeju behind it. On the other hand, its farming population is estimated at 176,000, or 11 percent of the province’s total population, which is significantly higher than the national average of five percent.
The geographical and climatic characteristics of the region have led to the development of dry farming, especially highland farming. Practiced on land at around 600 to 800 meters above sea level, highland farming began when a general shortage of food drove people from all over the country to the remote province, where they reclaimed the mountains by slash-and-burn farming. From early summer through autumn, the mountain ranges planted with vegetables look like a vast sea of green waves.
In the high mountains, vegetables are sown in early spring and grown through summer to be harvested and sold from late August until the end of September. Vegetables such as napa cabbages, white radishes, cabbages, onions, carrots and potatoes, which are difficult to cultivate in summer in warmer parts of the country, are grown in the mountains of Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Jeongseon and Taebaek. They have an absolute advantage in markets nationwide and are the main source of income for farmers of mountain villages, who otherwise suffer from poor agricultural conditions. The national market share of napa cabbages (aka Chinese cabbages) grown in the region amounts to 93 percent, and that of potatoes 32 percent. Besides, dried radish greens or napa cabbage leaves (siraegi), rich in nutrients, are specialties of the Punchbowl, a highland valley in Yanggu County.
Since most Koreans eat kimchi at virtually every meal, napa cabbages and white radishes, its main ingredients, are in great demand all year round. In summer and autumn, the highland agricultural areas of Gangwon Province are responsible for almost the entire nationwide supply of kimchi vegetables, so any increase or decrease in production has an immediate impact on national prices.
As far as sustainability goes, however, there are several problems with highland farming. For instance, the steep fields high in the mountains often experience soil loss during the rainy season in summer, causing agricultural chemicals to flow into the streams. Furthermore, fluctuating vegetable prices are conducive to speculative dealings. Consequently, voices have been raised for reforestation of the steeper fields and the practice of environment-friendly agriculture.
More recently, climate change has increased the cultivation of crops that were seldom produced here before, such as barley, apples and persimmons. Moreover, the high added value created by the seed industry has encouraged the provincial government to enact an ordinance that supports the development of superior seeds for potatoes and various grains. Highland floriculture and melons and asparagus are also emerging as strategic agricultural products.
In Gangwon Province, forests cover an area of 13,716 km², more than in any other province in the country. But not a lot of good timber is produced here because most of the mountains are too steep and rocky. The most widely distributed trees are pines and an array of broadleaf trees, and the major products from the forests are pine nuts, pine mushrooms, wild herbs and vegetables.

The pollack drying field in Yongdae-ri, Inje County, has rows of drying pollack hanging on racks. While dried in the cold open air throughout the winter, the fish turns golden yellow and its flesh grows softer and tastier.

High-quality Produce from a Clean Environment
The pine mushrooms produced in Yangyang County are considered the best in Korea, and are sold at over 600,000 won (approximately US$500) per kilogram, several times more expensive than those from other parts of the country. Firstgrade pine mushrooms exceed eight centimeters in length with a cap that does not flare out. Good mushrooms are picked from pines over 20 years old, growing naturally in the mountains where ventilation is good and the ground is thickly covered with pine needles. Yangyang has a lot of such terrain providing the optimal conditions for the production of high-quality pine mushrooms, the majority of which are refrigerated as soon as they are picked, to be packed and exported to Japan by air.
The most common species of livestock in Gangwon are cows, pigs and chickens, and their national market shares are seven, four and three percent, respectively.

Pine mushrooms are a specialty of Yangyang County and exported to Japan in great quantities.

The rate of high-quality meat of all beef produced in the province amounts to 86 percent, slightly higher than the national average of 84 percent. The difference is as much the result of the region’s climatic and geographical features as of consistent efforts to improve quality. The clean grass, water and air as well as the large diurnal temperature range contribute to increasing intramuscular fat in cattle, yielding high-quality beef that is tender and savory. Beef from the counties of Hoengseong, Pyeongchang and Hongcheon is recognized as the finest in the country, and products from Hoengseong and Daegwallyeong in Pyeongchang are exported to Hong Kong.
The pine mushrooms produced in Yangyang County are considered the best in Korea, and are sold at over 600,000 won (approximately US$500) per kilogram, several times more expensive than those from other parts of the country. Firstgrade pine mushrooms exceed eight centimeters in length with a cap that does not flare out. Good mushrooms are picked from pines over 20 years old, growing naturally in the mountains where ventilation is good and the ground is thickly covered with pine needles. Yangyang has a lot of such terrain providing the optimal conditions for the production of high-quality pine mushrooms, the majority of which are refrigerated as soon as they are picked, to be packed and exported to Japan by air.

Unlike the central and southern parts of the Korean peninsula, where the proportion of rice paddies to dry fields is similar or slightly higher, the mountainous northeastern province relies heavily on dry farming and is rich in underground resources.

Pollack Drying in Wind and Snow
When dried in the cold open air through the winter, the pollack flesh becomes softer and more suitable for long-term storage. The fish turns yellowish as it dries, hence its nickname hwangtae (yellow pollack). Yongdae-ri in the county of Inje is famous for its pollack drying fields (deokjang), where the fish is naturally dried hanging from wooden racks. Now, the fish is imported from Russia and processed here, with Yongdae-ri and the Daegwallyeong area producing more than 70 percent of dried pollack distributed in the country.
The best drying fields are found in places where the temperature drops below -10ºC at night in winter and the sun shines brightly during the day, with strong winds and heavy snow. To get the chewy and tasty meat tinged golden yellow, the fish should be dried slowly, frozen and thawed daily throughout the winter. Many Korean households have a few dried pollack in the pantry, ready to be cooked in soup for anyone in the family suffering a hangover.

Agritourism and Ecotourism
The clean air and beautiful scenery as well as the geographical proximity to the capital make Gangwon Province a popular place for agritourists. Friends, families and other groups visit the farms to enjoy activities such as fishing in the streams, harvesting crops and vegetables, and making processed food products, such as rice cake, bean curd, sausages and the like. They pay for the activities and for the food harvested or produced, which they can consume on the spot or take home.
Rural festivals that enjoy wide popularity further promote agritourism in the province. Hwacheon’s Tomato Festival in summer and Hoengseong’s Beef Festival in autumn, among other events, offer a remarkable diversity of interesting activities attracting a great number of tourists.
Many eco-tourist facilities built in the region’s beautiful woods are also major attractions. Hoengseong provides specialized forest experience programs at the National Center for Forest Activities (Soopchewon). Meanwhile, the city of Chuncheon runs ecological learning facilities — the Provincial Garden of Flowers and Trees (Hwamogwon), the Forestry Museum and the Forest Experience Park — for tourists and students from other cities, to raise public awareness of the benefits of forests. In addition, through an online reservation system visitors can rest and relax and stay overnight at recreational forests created all over the province. Finally, the Village of Shingle-Roofed Houses (Neowa Maeul), deep in the mountains of Sin-ri on the edge of Samcheok, features houses built in an indigenous architectural style. Its unique scenery has made the village a popular tourist attraction.
Currently, over 170 villages in Gangwon Province provide agritourist programs, accounting for 19 percent of such villages nationwide, and drawing 2.3 million visitors annually.



Local Country Cuisine Revived with a Mother’s Heart

With Koreans’ culinary culture growing markedly simpler and more Westernized, traditional meals once enjoyed by commoners in the countryside have become something of a rarity. Nonetheless, a Korean restaurant on the outskirts of Gangneung is famous for its menu full of traditional dishes, sticking faithfully to original local recipes. It has a rather long name, Seojichogatteul, meaning “the courtyard of a thatchedroof house in Seoji.”
Choi Young-gan, the mistress of a clan head family with many years of cooking experience, opened this restaurant in 1998, realizing her dream of reviving the vanishing traditional cuisine. Having operated for almost 20 years now, it was the first traditional Korean restaurant to be accredited by the Gangneung Agricultural Technology Center, and has also been designated a Fine Farm Restaurant by the Rural Development Administration. Behind its thatch-covered building stands a 200-year-old house built in the traditional style, where her family still lives. The house is imbued with the spiritual legacy of her grandfather-in-law, Cho In-hwan, who was a renowned Confucian scholar born toward the end of the Joseon Dynasty.
When serving her customers, Choi keeps in mind the words of her grandfather-in-law, who told his family to “receive guests to this house with the heart of a generous mother, and always treat them with kindness.” His words of advice are written on a plaque hung on the wall bearing the name of the house, Yeojaedang.

Choi Young-gan, owner of Seojichogatteul, a Korean restaurant on the periphery of Gangneung, shows Jilsang, a signature menu of her restaurant. An assortment of healthy dishes, the feast was prepared by her family for generations for the farmers of the village providing labor during the busy farming season.

The restaurant serves set meals with extraordinary names, such as Rice Planting (Motbap), Feast after Rice Planting (Jilsang), Receiving of Guests, Meeting with New In-laws, and Son-in-law’s First Birthday after Marriage. The first two menus are composed of dishes typical of rural cuisine. Firstly, Motbap (literally, “a meal in the field”) is an assortment of dishes that used to be prepared on large farms to feed the farmers who came to help plant the rice.
In the past, when rice seedlings were transplanted by hand, the work could not be handled by the family alone, so the neighbors and farmers from other villages were mobilized. The host family usually served lunch and dinner to some 20 to 30 workers, right in the fields, and the meals consisted of rice cooked with red beans, seaweed soup, ripened kimchi, bean curd, fried seaweed, rice cake and so on, along with makgeolli (rice wine).
By July, when the rice had been planted and the paddies weeded a few times, a feast was thrown for the farmers.

Jilsang (literally, “a feast for workers”) is the food prepared for this occasion to express gratitude for their help and settle the account for the exchange of labor among the farmers. The first part of the name, jil, comes from the word jilkkun, meaning the workers who take part in communal farm labor.
express gratitude for their help and settle the account for the exchange of labor among the farmers. The first part of the name, jil, comes from the word jilkkun, meaning the workers who take part in communal farm labor. On this occasion the table held highly nutritious dishes that would reinvigorate the exhausted workers and help sustain them through the sweltering summer.
If there was a young man nearing his 20th birthday among the group, an adult member of the host family would inform others of the fact and hold a birthday celebration for him.
Today, meals like Motbap and Jilsang may seem to be nothing more than unusual items on the menu, but they were a natural part of the seasonal process of farming and of communal life in traditional society, where farming was the backbone of life.

Heo Young-sun Poet
Kim Mi-joo, Yi Gyeom Photographers

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