Friday, October 14, 2011

The She-Bears' Den, Beomeo

On Wednesday, I set out on my trusty cycle and, thanks to some hints from friend and reader and fellow Green Liver (ok, maybe that's not the best title) Mary, I managed to find not one, not two, but THREE shops selling primarily local, organic, and healthy edibles.

First and foremost, 곰네들장터 (The She-Bears' Marketplace), itself an offshoot of 곰네들누리터 (The She-Bears' Den).

Modest from the outside, there's a lot going on here. The name comes from Korean mythology, according to which a she-bear and a he-tiger asked the gods to be turned into humans. To do so, they were told to eat mugwort and garlic for three weeks. The bear managed to do so, became human, begged the gods for a son, and gave birth to Dang-gun, Korea's first human king.

There's more to the story, but in essence, the women behind the She-Bears' Den intend it to be a nurturing space for people of all ages and interests, and thus, for the Earth as well. They offer courses in dream therapy, art therapy, counseling, health, and in making soap, candles, cosmetics out of eco-friendly ingredients. They also offer study space and eco-experiences for schoolchildren on the weekends. Most accessible to foreigners, though, is probably the Wednesday morning temple food preparation class "반청", where you can learn to cook authentic, delicious, traditional Korean food from a professor and activist (I didn't get her name) from Daegu Catholic University.

As unfortunate as it is that we're all busy and that it's so difficult for foreigners to really get involved in places like this, I'm always happy to find these places where people are doing their best to restore health to individuals, society, and the planet. If you go looking, there are little specks of hope everywhere.

And giant ones, too. I had a fantastic discussion with Jae-hak Seo, manager of the She-Bears' Marketplace located on the first floor, just under the Den.

"Green life, Green Community, Green Future"

At first look, the Marketplace looks more or less like every other organic store I've written about so far. Wooden cubbyholes full of organic snacks, fair-trade goodies, vegetarian ramen, and all-natural cleaning products. Bags of local and organic grains and beans, a fridge full of fresh produce, and a freezer of antibiotic-free meat.

There's something different about this place, though. A feeling of closeness, related not to the modest footprint of the shop but to the lack of pretense and the sheer honesty of the enterprise. When an organic coffee shop opened up down the street, Mr. Seo stopped stocking some of his coffee in order to help them out. The rice here is sold in plain, clear bags with simple labels, not the fancy, bulky bags you see at other stores. Some eggs have no labels at all, and you can get a 200 won refund for returning the cartons for reuse. These are the surface details of something deeper:

"The Community of Life"
The Community of Life, now twenty years in the making, is a an organic farming cooperative with producers at its heart . Founded in 1989 and originally composed of 9 villages in Andong, Yeongju, Sangju, Mungyeong, in North Gyeongsangbuk province, it now contains member farms in Uiseong, Yech'eon, Seongju, and Mungyeong's Gupung, Twoegang, Chukdeong, and Sancheon communities. It was founded in order to create a world in which we can all live together, and it works towards this goal by growing and sharing organic produce, facilitating exchange between city and countryside, and creating a healthy local society. The She-Bear's Den purchases and sells rice, grains, vegetables, fruits, eggs, sesame oil, and more produce by The Community of Life.

Aside from the processed stuff up front, Mr. Seo explained to me, most everything comes from the Andong Catholic Farmers' Association (안동카톨릭농민회), a local group dedicated to preserving the health of rural communities and the land that sustains them. While other eco-shops, iCoop in particular, are in the business of bringing cheap and healthy food to consumers in the city, Seo emphasizes that we should try to see things from the standpoint of the producers, many of whom need more support than the big chains are currently giving them. He visits his producers frequently and does his best to make sure that their relationship with consumers is a balanced one that promotes the health of all parties involved.

Mr. Seo is the friendliest and most available of all the managers I've met so far. Lately, he's been working on attaching English tags to items, and says he's happy to take requests for items such as organic olive oil, balsamic vinegar, prune juice, or whatever our hearts desire.

...though be careful not to confuse the 된장 with peanut butter...

Here's what you need to know in order to stop by, say hi, and support this amazing place:

The She-Bears' Marketplace, probably the eco-shop most accessible from downtown, is located just west of Beomeo intersection, about 30 seconds away from exit 3. Open Mon-Sat 10AM-9PM, and from 1PM-9PM on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month; fresh vegetables are delivered on Mondays and Thursdays. No membership is required, though if you do sign up, you can earn 3% store credit on each purchase.

To see it on a map, check out on DGL's Green Guide.

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