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korean food / seoul / Funding that invests in farmers and gets them back with safe food – 1336

The rainy season has passed in a hustle and bustle these days. There are people who frown at the changed discomfort index and are suddenly worried. Farmers are sighing at a natural phenomenon that is not easy to control or predict. While basking in the bright sunlight and looking happily at the fruits that were just about to be harvested, the rain that seemed like an open sky might have opened your heart.

Now that the rainy season has arrived, there are consumers who think they won't be able to eat sweet fruits for a while, farmers who are heartbroken by fruits that have become ugly due to the rain, and people who are busy running around and trying to figure out the hearts of farmers and consumers at the same time. You're probably spending a busy day planning an SOS exhibition of agricultural products damaged by hail during the rainy season. From a bachelor's vegetable shop to a rural planner. I met CEO Park Jong-beom of the Agricultural Fund, who is cheering for farmers who grow proper and healthy food.

An agricultural fund that captures the hearts of farmers

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Source: Agricultural Fund

Q. What kind of place is the Agricultural Fund? Actually, the words farming and funding don't really relate! How did you start an agricultural fund?

A. I started an agricultural fund after I started working in rural areas in 2003. While working for an agriculture-related company, I worked on rural village consulting and rural village support projects. At that time, there was an urban gap between rural and urban areas, and it was a project to educate and support such asymmetries. After it was determined that the information gap had been resolved to some extent, they also played an intermediary role in planning and selling rural experience products and trading products directly from villages. After that, I met a variety of farmers while working at a bachelor's vegetable store. There are 364 villages in our country, and there are more farmers than that. When I met the farmers in person, I discovered two problems.

Q. What are these two problems?

A. First, there's the issue of farming funds (input costs). The smaller the scale, the lower the amount of investment that can be supported. In order to farm, there are many farmers who must have a basic investment amount, but they have to pay off debts after spending them. I think one of the current government policy issues is that the smaller the scale, the harder it is to receive it.

Next is the philosophy of farmers. This is when the product that the retail market wants is different from the product the farmer wants to make. For example, the retail market wants a red, big, and pretty apple, but in order to have such an apple, you have to pick all the surrounding leaves. If you remove all the leaves that can photosynthesize, the authenticity of the apple deteriorates. There are farmers who want to farm in a format where they think “I'm right” rather than the right product in the retail market.

I discovered these problems and thought about crowdfunding. In 2013, a bachelor used afternoon and weekend time to find these farmers and made a new attempt, and failed once. After that, it started again in 2014, and the current agricultural fund was born! I think this kind of crowdfunding is a reversal of the flow of money. It's a platform that supports farmers so they can farm without worry.

Q. Alas, so are there any problems communicating with farmers?

A. I've actually been in the field for 10 years, so I think farmers take the same thing differently depending on how they say it. I also try to pass on such know-how to our employees. Also, I use my smartphone much better than I thought, so it's easy to talk on KakaoTalk on a regular basis.

Q. What was the reaction of farmers before and after funding?

A. About 60% of farmers have direct trading experience! There are also people who have separate sales channels such as blogs and social media. The reason farmers like farming funds is that they first capture and unravel their own (farmers') stories. Also, even though it's a small amount of money, the results can be predicted, which gives a sense of psychological stability. Because you can see how much cash flow is in your hands! I think the fact that farmers have priority in pricing also plays a part. Farming funds are choosing a method where farmers can determine their own value by sharing prices from other farmers through market research. Of course, farmers are also responsible for this.

Appropriate scale-oriented producers

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Agricultural fund family members laughing with the farmer

Q. If so, how do you proceed with farmhouse contacts?

A. In the early days, I went looking for 80% of them myself. Currently, 50% are excavated directly, 30% are farmers recommended by existing farmers, and 20% are receiving applications. Of these, about 20% of cases actually take place.

Q. If so, are you only promoting eco-friendly agricultural products? Are there any criteria for contact with crops?

It usually focuses on small to medium farmers. There are many farmers who use supplementary means such as eco-friendly or pesticide-free certificates, but since certificates are issued about once a year, it's easy to hide them behind. That's why there are many producers who use it in reverse. At the agricultural fund, I want to meet producers of an appropriate scale who can keep their promises about farming according to their own ideas, understand their extent, and proceed with the fund.

If you run a farmhouse that you can't take care of yourself, problems will increase. For example, there may be side effects such as a couple running a thousand square meters of land and not being able to pick all the weeds, so they use herbicides and pesticides.

Currently, the Agricultural Fund does not only promote eco-friendly agricultural products. In order for a farmer to become an eco-friendly farmer, a preparation period of about 2-3 years is required, and this period is the hardest. Also, if you farm in an eco-friendly way, the price drops in the market, so do you think it's called an “unpretty product”? Therefore, I'm trying to act as a bridge for farmers to cultivate eco-friendly farming and the farming they want. Therefore, even using chemical fertilizers or pesticides is OK. However, using herbicides is NO. By our own standards!

Q. Were there any farmers you worked with that impressed you?

A. I remember a peach farmer in Gangneung. When I first saw that farmer, he was selling peaches on the national highway. It hurt my heart to see a farmer not on a farm but in a dusty place with lots of cars passing by. When I farm, there are a lot of unexpected situations. All of a sudden, the peach harvest increased, and they came out to the counter. In order for farmers to focus on farming, the most important thing is to have stable sales. So after worrying, I made a fun project with this farmer. It was a special exhibition called “Dinner with Fruits,” and once a month they send a set of peaches, apples, and pears of each type. Fortunately, the response was very good, and the farmer was able to make a profit of around 30 million won.

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Making the right food together

Q. What would you define as the right food?

A. I think the process is transparent and the distribution of resources is reasonable. Appropriate return of that share to the person who made the effort. I think if I keep the process transparent so I can understand how that process comes to me, I'll be able to enjoy the ingredients in a healthier way.

Q. Do you think eco-friendly food is the right food?

A. In fact, it's not just a matter of saying yes or no. Currently, eco-friendly food in Korea is determined by whether it has a certificate or not. There are also too many marks related to eco-friendly food. Of course, that's not all. It's also a good guide for consumers who have nothing to judge other than the mark. However, in order to obtain that certification, there is a process that must be taken, and costs are incurred in the process. It's called a certification fee, and it costs about 1 million won. Farmers who don't have money to eat and buy will raise 1 million won from where, and that doesn't mean 100% sales of agricultural products will be eliminated. There are a lot of things that are regrettable.

Therefore, the most important thing for agricultural funds is “whether to farm on an appropriate scale.” It's a matter of going beyond what can be done to remove weeds. It's not because the farmer's mind is bad, but because they can't solve the various problems that occur during farming. There are also too many issues to worry about, such as production and shipping.

Q. Since you're a CEO working for an agricultural fund, do you really only eat the right food?

A. In fact, when I work, I often eat fast food because I'm busy. I also eat a lot of cup noodles. (Haha) But there's definitely a wider range of food choices. They also take ingredients from farmers and make them for the company to eat. In particular, there is a big difference in the quality of food eaten at home. In fact, if you switch only rice, red pepper paste, soy sauce, and eggs, which are the main ingredients you eat at home, to food from agricultural fund farmers, the taste and taste will change.

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CEO of Agricultural Fund 'Park Jong-beom'

Q. I'm called a rural planner on social media, but I think it's a new job. A rural planner!

In fact, I named myself a rural planner in 2006. The team leader, agent, and representative are one rank within the company. As I worked, I needed a name that could represent what I'm doing now. A lot of people were curious about what I did. One of the projects I worked on in the past was a village food shop, and the more houses there are, the more often farmers eat or skip meals. This is because if one person's manpower leaves to eat, the loss of manpower is just as great in rural areas where labor is important! So I once worked on a project where local government budgets, nutritionists, and spaces were invited to eat lunch together in the village. A lot of people asked me if I was usually a farmer when I did these things. Actually, it's a bit vague. But now I can talk! I'm a rural planner.

Q. It seems like there are a lot of rural start-ups these days, but I'm curious to know what your thoughts are!

People only know rural areas as places that produce agricultural products. However, rural areas are also places where people live. So the field is broad, and not all of them work as farmers. Currently, many rural startups are studying how to manage distribution in rural areas or grow crops using machines. I hope that the field will expand and become more diverse, and that innovation will take place not only in facilities and production, but also in various places in rural areas.

Q. What do you think is the reason for using agricultural funds? Actually, agricultural funds aren't a fast platform!

I think the value of where and how consumers make purchases is based. If you look at that value, the risk you endure about consumption itself seems to increase! Also, I think the influx of new customers these days is also considering price benefits. Apparently, since they buy in groups, consumers can benefit from the usual market by 10-20%. There are also occasional products that farmers suddenly do SOS for, but in the case of these products, you can get a price benefit of up to 40% because they are transferred to the wholesale price.

Also, I think today's consumers think about who the money they spend will benefit. I originally thought that agricultural cooperatives would help farmers, but in fact, that role has disappeared a lot. E-Mart is convenient, but it's a pity that I don't really know what kind of farmer this product came from. I think there's something interesting about agricultural funds because you know exactly where the money is being spent directly.

Finally, there are customers who are satisfied with the curation of the Agricultural Fund. There are so many foods all over the country, and it can be a bit stressful to find out and buy them all. Since the Agricultural Fund helps with such curation services, it seems that the stress factor is reduced from the consumer's point of view.

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Agricultural water curation by the Agricultural Fund

Q. What do you want from the current food market?

In fact, the food market is very large. It's a huge field, from rural producers to distribution before delivery to consumers, and restaurants. There is a lot of interest and innovation in these various fields, but I hope more things will come out to bridge the cultural gap between farmers who are producers and rural areas. Also, I would like places that handle food to have more clear safety standards. When I think about improving production efficiency, safety standards become vague. Agricultural funds are also trying not to lose their original intentions when it comes to that aspect.

Q. Is there a direction for agricultural funds to move forward?

The goal of the Agricultural Fund is to replace Nonghyup in the future. A new agricultural cooperative. I want consumers to know who produces the food and eat it. One consumer knows the name of one farmer. If I get interested in the food I buy, I think that interest will move to another place and gradually expand.

It's important to know the farmer's name. In fact, even if the same farmer grows the same kind of fruit, every day, every month, and every year is different. Of course, taste is important, but knowing a farmer's story and buying it is similar to buying that value. If I understand how this person thinks about farming and producing results, I think the way they buy will probably change a little bit. If the way one person makes purchases changes like that, the day will change drastically, right?

This post is accompanied by a crowdfunding farming fund that invests in the national restaurant application Shikigami X Farmer.



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