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Urban farms grow a greener future in Seoul

SEOUL--Seoul, at first glance, is not a city where you would expect to experience abundant agriculture. The megacity is filled with highly sophisticated urban features including advanced IT technology, an extensive mass transportation system and towering skyscrapers. But Seoul has been witnessing the rise of a civic movement aimed at embracing a slow but fruitful life. At the center of the movement is an army of urban farmers who are betting on a greener future for the city, rather than pursuing a faster, and perhaps easier, life.

From abandoned plots in inner city areas and plastic boxes on apartment balconies, to rooftop gardening, a number of urban dwellers are reconnecting with the earth in the heart of the metropolis. Abandoning the comforts of the city ? where groceries and supermarket chains are found on every corner ? city farmers are putting their hands in the soil, and gaining a greater appreciation for life through gardening.

Figures provide a glimpse into the growing popularity of urban farming. According to the Seoul city government, the number of city farms surged dramatically from 66 in 2010 to 2,056 last year. Abundant media coverage also reflects this unusual interest. The number of articles published by local newspapers on urban farming surpassed the 1 million mark in 2012 from 200,000 in 2010, according to a study by local think tank Seoul Institute.

Then where is Seoul's zeal for urban farming coming from? Ahn Cheol-hwan, representative of the Association of City Farmers in Korea, stresses the “unstoppable” human instinct to return to nature.

“City dwellers have been struggling with constant social unrest. The recent popularity of urban farming reflects the human desire to regain peace by reconnecting with the earth,” said Ahn, who presented himself as a gardening mentor.

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