Today we meet Park Suh Ran, founder of the Gre-eat Market, a collaborative project that aims to increase awareness about healthy lifestyles and food in Korea by connecting food professionals, organic farmers and consumers. The market hopes to be a platform where it would be possible to exchange ideas, knowledge and experiences about food.
– How did the idea of the Gre-eat Market come to mind?
It all started with the idea of increasing awareness about organic food. Eating organic and sustainable food means saving not only our health but also the environment. By supporting organic farmers, we believe it can help save our life and the world as well.
Before agricultural industrialization, we used to have natural agricultural, but this has changed and farmers use many chemicals to grow our food now. I believe we have to support organic and natural farmers that don’t use pesticides and chemicals.
As a chef myself, I also think I have to support good food and healthy ingredients and try to gather people who share the same ideas. I also wanted influential people and as many people as possible who share the same vision.
Chefs in our network donate their talents and do cooking shows and prepare food. Their talent directly influences consumers who trust farmers and we can use the funds we collect to support charity programs.
– How do you choose the people to involve in your projects and convince them to participate?
I’ve worked as a professional chef for many years and have collaborated on some TV programs, like the KBS show “6 p.m., My Hometown (6시 내고향), as well. This gave me the chance to meet many farmers and other food professionals, so I had a network of people who I trust and whom I could involve in the Gre-eat Market project.
It came naturally to convince these food professionals, chefs and farmers because after working for so many years together they trusted me on the personal and professional side.
– What are the most prominent issues in the Korean food industry and necessary steps to solve them, in your opinion?
Modern industrialization of the food industry in Korea has changed the food industry dramatically. We used to be an agricultural society, using natural farming, but over the past 30 years we have become exposed to more and more chemicals that are used to grow vegetables and to more processed foods.
As a mother, I also wanted to use healthy food. In order to do so, I focused on more traditional methods of growing food, on direct contact between the farm the table and the people involved. In our urban society, people work a lot and have less and less time to prepare a healthy meal. I want to bring more awareness about healthy lifestyles and ingredients. We can have a simple but healthy meal using local and seasonal ingredients.
The restaurant industry and the growing popularity of Western food trends have impacted us here, in particular young consumers.
I wanted to create a movement that gathers people together around the table and let them experience food directly.
I think the key to change is the trend toward a slower lifestyle and to use cooking as a healing process. To do that, the people who prepare food for the family should know more about the ingredients and how to use them in the kitchen.
These days, there’s a loss of a sense of community and sharing that we used to have in the past. This is what I would like to bring back through the Gre-eat Market.
– The key to success is to share ideas and information. Your approach is very different and could be difficult to understand. How does the exchange of ideas have to be done to be the most efficient? How do people react to the events you organize?
We have to create new behavioral patterns, and we have to focus on farmers and food experts first, and find the best elements of health that we can share. Organizing many events, meetups and being able to meet as many people as possible, and deliver sincere and honest information, is quite important.
Many people were really interested. For many, it was the first time to experience this kind of new “culture.” We usually have many chefs and food experts working and connecting together, and this is also what attracts many people who want to know more and learn more.
Our is a really unique project because, in Korea, chefs are not really connected with each other. We created a platform that connects chefs from different backgrounds and ages: older and younger chefs, Chinese food, French and so on. I’ve travelled a lot in the West and learned a lot about donations and charity work. I wanted to bring that element also to our project here in Korea.
– Why do you think it took longer in Korea to change awareness about eating healthily?
The Korean people were living in poverty until about 30 years, and the majority of people used to have only one meal per day and couldn’t think about a healthy diet: simply feed your family.
The Gre-eat Market aims to work with small and local farmers and not big retailers and connect them with consumers, growing a network of farmers, chefs and consumers. We want to share the profits with them.
– What are the challenges you need to overcome?
We need to make enough profit to run the project. I see it as a mission rather than a job. Being helpful to young chefs and to inspire them to find good farmers and to improve awareness about natural ingredients and to learn more: it’s all important.
One thing is that this is about changing a pattern of behavior, and as with all social change, it takes a long time.
Not being sponsored by a corporation, collecting enough funds to run our events, is another big challenge. Profits at the Gre-eat Market are delivered to those who need them within our network, by both offline and online campaigns, including acts with celebrities like the singer Sean (션) giving testimonials.
– Have you organized events with young people, who will be the ones who will most likely start this social change?
We have been to universities for lectures and we’ve also organized field trips to local farms.
Students were able to meet farmers first-hand, learn more and ask any questions they might have about their food source.
Practical knowledge is very important. University students are important to change society and the new generation, and also it’s good for farmers so they can become more aware of how valuable their products are.
– What would you like to achieve with the Gre-eat Market project?
My long term goal is to make more and more people interested in a healthy lifestyle and nutrition, and at the same time promote healthy Korean ingredients produced by honest farmers.
By Vincenzo Acampora Carratura
Korea.net Honoray Reporter
Photos: Gre-eat Market