Marronnier Park, nestled in the northern Seoul district of Daehangno, is usually a busker’s haven.
On a typical Sunday, performances by young artists attract students and office workers alike to the cultural neighborhood home to more theaters than restaurants, but the park featured a rather odd event on Nov. 9.
People carrying tumblers and plastic plates surrounded makeshift booths brimming with vegetables, craftwork and desserts. Vendors were busy filling plates with roasted chestnuts, eggs, beans, jam, honey and fruits. Others appeared to be choosing from a selection of handmade wooden cutting boards.
Marche@ is no ordinary marketplace. It is an artisan food market that opens on the second Sunday of each month, a collaborative project among farmers, artists and chefs. Farmers bring organic vegetables and fruits, free of agricultural pesticides, to the market, while chefs cook up dessert assortments, coffee and other beverages that use such ingredients. Designers and artists sell craftwork made of recycled products or eco-friendly material, and provide handmade packaging for the greens and grains being sold.
“It’s a small marketplace where farmers, chefs and artists have gathered to find and promote fun in farming in the city,” said Lee Bo-eun of the Korean Women’s Environmental Network, one of Marche@’s hosts. “We make sure the food is safe and healthy, and Marche gives consumers a chance to communicate with the farmers and distributors.” Co-hosts include Marie Claire Korea and the Arko Art Center.
Marche, French for marketplace, doesn’t always open in Marronnier Park ― after the “@ (at)” comes the location at which the market will open that month. The theme of the marketplace also changes ― this month’s theme was grain.
Visitors are asked to bring their own tumblers and plastic plates to the market for purchases at reduced prices.
When the marketplace was launched in October 2012, some 40 teams were selected to sell products at Marche@, and because they wish not to exceed 50, the organizers are rather selective when recruiting new teams.
It officially began when a group of city farmers, artists and cooks gathered with the aim of providing products of the best quality to Seoulites who are used to shopping at supermarkets and retailers.
“I learned about Marche@ through a village community vegetable garden project,” said Lim Seong-hi, owner of a small farm in Ui-dong, northern Seoul. “Through this project, we would learn and teach about tending to vegetable gardens. Several of us involved in this project wanted to expose our products to more consumers, so we decided to apply for a booth at Marche@.”
Lim’s booth features fresh seasonal greens, as well as manufactured products.
“Each season, our products change. Sometimes, we whip up a salad with our vegetables to sell. Some complain that the food here is expensive, but we remind our consumers that these are products that are not mass produced. Considering this, our prices aren’t exorbitant.”
HalstonMaierle, with Dae Cheese, a cheese factory and farm in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, learned about Marche@ through members of the Seoul City Farmers, an urban gardening group that teaches people how to grow their own greens.
“Our farm is relatively small,” said Maierle, who came to Korea three years ago. “We used to make cheese for personal consumption, but people started buying it.”
Visitors to Marche@ likened the marketplace to an artisan food and cafe fair.
“It’s like a small carnival,” said Seo Young-mi, a college student. “I come to Daehangno often on weekends, but this is my first visit to Marche@. It’s unlike most marketplaces. It’s fun and more culturally engaging.”
Housewife Lee Eun-jung visits Marche@ each Sunday it opens.
“The fruit here are fresher than the fruit they sell at supermarkets,” Lee said. “I contact the vendors personally for purchases when the market doesn’t open.”
With the purpose of reducing the use of disposable products, visitors who order lunch at Marche@ have to pay a small deposit for plates and chopsticks.
Visitors are then asked to wash their own dishes and silverware at a pot-and-pan sink set up to the side. Vendor lists are available at www.marcheat.net, and the market is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month. The market does not open in January and August.
Follow Kwon Ji-youn on Twitter @jennajykwon
Source: The Korean Times