Every time I tell someone that I live near the DMZ (demilitarized zone) bordering North Korea, people freak out a little. The tensions between North and South Korea are often talked about all over the media. But as a resident living on the front lines in South Korea’s northern most county, I have yet to feel any sort of real concern or worry about the danger that may lie just a few kilometers away from my apartment.
A few months ago, I met a very interesting man by the name of Steve Kwon, aka Farmer Steve. I first met Steve during another teacher’s farewell dinner in Cheorwon, and it was then that he told us about his farmland dilemma. Steve had purchased some farm land that borders North Korea within the CCL (Civilian Controlled Line), but was told by Korean officials and South Korean military that he was not allowed to farm on the land he purchased because of its proximity to the border between the North and the South. To make a long story short, he got caught up in a scam that has yet to be resolved.
The thing that really drew me in when hearing Steve’s story is his passion for this particular piece of land he purchased. He moved his wife and 2 young boys to the countryside of Korea to live a simple life so that his kids would have rich childhood memories, much like his own growing up in Oregon. It’s rare nowadays to meet people like Farmer Steve, who fight for their dreams with such an unwavering passion. So when he invited us for a visit to the unpromised land he spoke of, it was an offer we could not refuse.
On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, he took us to a green pepper farm, showed us a rescued baby deer, introduced us to the best “paprika’ (bell pepper) farmers in Korea, took us across the military checkpoint, drove us off-road through a land-mine danger zone to reach the final destination: Garten 38.
Steve named this precious piece of land “Garten” meaning to make something beautiful, and 38 after the line of latitude 38 degrees North that marks the border between North and South Korea.
At a glance, the land looks like nothing more than rocks and rubble but this place was filled with remnants of the Korean war. He showed us broken glass from Coca-Cola bottles, dating back from the 1950s.
There were also tons of rusted clips from tow-missiles used by the South Korean army during the war.
Even an American turtle back grenade!
He called it a “living museum of the Korean past.” There was so much to be felt here as I was walking through this land kicking away rocks and uncovering some piece of rusted metal or glass left behind from Korea’s darker days.
As Steve walked us through giving us fun facts about his beloved land, all I could hear in the background were the rustling of the leaves and the cheerful laughter of his 2 sons playing with things they had uncovered from the ground. Despite what may have happened here more than 60 years ago, I felt no feelings of unease. As I looked around, I could envision Steve’s dream of farming this protected piece of land and bringing beauty back to a place that was once filled with so much bloodshed.
Big thanks again to Farmer Steve for taking us to his secret place to connect with nature’s present and reconnect with Korea’s past.
“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you, to leave this world better than when you found it.” -Wilfred Peterson