Programs in Gurye County, South Jeolla, include wheat stomping, pressed flower art workshops, pansori lessons and a cherry blossom festival.
Visitors walk through a wheat field in Guman Village, Gurye County, South Jeolla, where visitors are encouraged to stomp around as much as they like. By Shin Dong-yeon
With the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement set to take effect next month, farmers nationwide are beginning to worry about the effect it will have on their livelihoods. To cushion the blow, farmers in many regions have begun opening their farms to programs for tourists.
The JoongAng Ilbo visited one such area, Gurye County in South Jeolla, a popular destination for hiking and temple stays on Mount Jiri. Through the years, the somewhat secluded county has made efforts to preserve the environment as well as its own cultural traditions.
The trip from central Seoul takes around four hours by car or bus. With few public buses in the county, it is best for visitors to travel by taxi once they reach the area.
Stomp your cares away
It seems that spring comes later and later with every passing year. Though the fields in Gurye County were largely dormant, there were small patches of green dotting tiny Guman Village. Farmers nearby said that they were wheat sprouts, indicating that the wheat industry is on its feet again after having suffered setbacks.
Choi Sung-ho, a representative of the Domestic Wheat Guild in Gwangui Village, said the resurgence in wheat production has led farmers in Guman to create tourism programs.
The wheat stomping program at the guild's Wheat Experience Center, which invites visitors to stomp around a wheat field, is especially popular with children, Choi said. Wheat grows faster when you step on it, Choi said, because it facilitates fertilization.
At the center, visitors can also make milpotguksu (wheat and adzuki bean noodles) and miljjinppang (steamed wheat buns) for 6,600 won ($5.84) per person. The program is available every day but Sundays and at least 30 participants are needed. Reservations must be made at least a week in advance. Visit www.lovemill.com or call (061) 781-3034.
Sangsa Village offers similar activities, including bread baking. Visitors can make three kinds of bread products with wheat flour, including flatbread, muffins and pizza dough.
The program is from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday or from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sunday. Prices range from 30,000 won to 35,000 won depending on the number of participants. The program is only available when there are at least five participants and reservations must be made at least a week in advance. Visit www.jangsuchon.net or call (061) 782-4048.
Children make pressed flower accessories at the Pressed Wildflower Gallery, which also displays a collection of pressed flower art.
From wildflowers to art
At the nearby Pressed Wildflower Gallery, a group of small children was busy making their own pressed flower creations. With the guidance of their teacher, Han Bok-sun, 37, the children had picked their own wild flowers and were now carefully putting them into a resin mold. After around 20 minutes, they were holding their own handmade pressed flower key chains.
Han said that this is the only place in Korea where visitors can make accessories using fresh wild flowers that vary by season.
"Primroses and dandelions blossom in spring and golden spider lilies and elecampane come out in summer", she said.
The venue also has an exhibition hall that displays pressed flower art. From a distance, the artworks resemble watercolors but a closer look reveals intricate, detailed workmanship.
The Pressed Wildflower Gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is 2,000 won for adults, 1,000 won for children and free for preschoolers. The exhibition hall will temporarily be closed from Monday to April 19 while new works are selected and installed.
During that time, 20 works of pressed flower art will be on display and admission is free. Visitors must, however, make a reservation for the pressed flower accessory making program. For more, visit farm.gurye.go.kr or call (061) 780-2096. The program is only available when there are at least five people. Prices vary depending on the item made: 3,500 won for a key holder, 6,000 won for a framed picture and 15,000 won to 20,000 won for a pair of earrings.
Students study pansori at the Dongpyonje Pansori Inheritance Center.
Trace the roots of pansori
On a recent visit to the Dongpyeonje Pansori Inheritance Center, the strains of pansori echoed throughout the room. Pansori is a form of narrative singing that developed during the mid-to-late Joseon Dynasty. In performance, one singer accompanied by a single drummer sings and chants a traditional epic story.
Gurye is the home of the dongpyeonje style of pansori. It has produced many pansori masters including Song Man-gap (1865-1939), who was given the title of gukchang, or national singer, because he performed for the king. Gurye is also home to other notable pansori singers including Park Bong-rae and Yoo Seong-jun.
The popularity of the award-winning 1993 film "Seopyeonje" led many people to become familiar with Seopyeonje, a form of pansori that developed on the west side of the Seomjin River. But dongpyeonje, which developed on the east side of the Seomjin, is less well known. While Seopyeonje is considered more feminine, dongpyeonje is a more masculine vocal style.
Dongpyeonje Pansori Inheritance Center, opened in 2004, was built to commemorate the life and career of Song Man-gap, whose birthplace is on the right side of the hall, in addition to cultivating young talent. For visitors, the center also offers classes in pansori, gayageum (12-stringed zither), traditional dance and the folk songs of southern Gyeonggi. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays.
Gurye boasts two edible specialties - maple sap and cornelian cherries.
The sap of painted maple trees is known to be an abundant source of calcium and potassium. It is also said to be effective for detoxification. The sap is generally harvested from February to early April, with the best sap extracted from early February to early March.
Many tourist attractions in Gurye sell painted maple sap, including Hwaeom Temple and Piagol, a famous valley on Mount Jiri. Prices for one bottle range from 50,000 won for 18 liters (4.8 gallons), 25,000 won for nine liters and 13,000 won for 4.3 liters. For details, call (061) 780-2424.
Cornelian cherries are another Gurye specialty. The yellow flowers of the cornelian tree (sansuyu) turn red by mid-March and are collected to make tea or alcoholic beverages. The cherries contain potassium, calcium and zinc, among other nutrients.
Gurye has held its Sansuyu Flower Festival every year since 1999. This year's festival runs from March 23 to 25. For details, visit www.sansuyu.go.kr or call (061) 780-2727.
By Lee Seok-hee [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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