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COVID-19 blues? Look into Seoul's therapeutic gardening programs

Seoul Agricultural Technology Center Director Cho Sang-tae poses in the center's strawberry garden. The center will offer therapeutic gardening programs that would help those suffering depression brought on by COVID-19. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong
Seoul Agricultural Technology Center Director Cho Sang-tae poses in the center's strawberry garden. The center will offer therapeutic gardening programs that would help those suffering depression brought on by COVID-19. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong

By Kim Se-jeong

For those practicing social distancing, working from home, or having an extended school vacation, the joys of remaining at home are starting to wear thin.

People are beginning to miss spending afternoons with friends at coffee shops or the cinema, or walking or running along the Han River banks, enjoying the breeze or the flowering cherry blossoms.

Malls, supermarkets and parks packed with people over the past two weekends were just one sign of how desperate people have become to get out and get some fresh air.

But, "COVID-19 depression" is likely to continue, as the government last weekend extended its social distancing campaign until later this month.

In addition to this, some are dealing with added stress related to the financial fallout of COVID-19 among other issues from the disease itself.

The Seoul Agricultural Technology Center (SATC), a city-affiliated organization promoting urban farming, said its therapeutic gardening programs could ― in the future ― be of some help to people struggling to deal with the current situation.

"I heard many people left their home during the weekend to walk among cherry blossom trees or under the sun in parks. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, people have a thirst for green. The center can meet that thirst," said Cho Sang-tae, the center's director, during an interview with The Korea Times. "The center will offer gardening projects that can have a healing effect for many people."

The program will give a total of 60 participants in groups the opportunity to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs, harvest them and make them into meals. Each group will be assisted by those working on the program who will help them engage in conversations about any common source of stress.

The bad news is that all four initial programs, except the one for schoolchildren, are full. The SATC originally posted an advertisement on its website a week ago stating it was offering the programs for 15 people in each one. All received more than 15 applicants in less than two days, Cho said.

The good news is that there will be more programs rolled out as soon as the social distancing campaign is over so that more people can participate.

Therapeutic farming isn't just about growing fruit and vegetables. It incorporates a human aspect. "Farming brings people together and helps you talk to strangers and make friends," said Cho.

Therapeutic gardening isn't completely new.

Last year, the center kicked off gardening programs for selected groups of people. Altogether 318 the elderly and disabled people, and school-aged children took past to grow herbs and strawberries and make strawberry jam.

With this success in its first year, the center was preparing programs for all age groups on its 7,700 square meters of land.

"We all know Korea is a stressful place to be. Children have academic stress; adults are stressed about work and relationships; and the older generation fights to overcome their deteriorating mental and physical health."

The effects of therapeutic gardening have been proven. According to Rural Development Administration research in 2018, gardening played a role in reducing signs of aggression by 13 percent.

Outside Korea, many reports have also been written about the positive effects of gardening on mental health.

A study published by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2018 analyzed 22 case studies on the role of therapeutic gardening, concluding that gardening has positive effects on human health in general. "Studies reported a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life and sense of community," the study stated.

Speaking to The Guardian, a retired dancer who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia said, "The real learning is in connecting with people and becoming confident in yourself and just feeling part of nature; that is the real learning, especially for people with mental health issues."

He added: "When you are gardening you get very involved, because of all the elements and the seasons. You can't run away from it; you can't feel superior. And by watching things grow, you realize that it isn't always the fault of the plant if things don't work ― it's about the season and the weather. It's the same with mental health issues: it's not always your fault."

These effects from gardening also inspired some local governments in Korea to roll out programs involving planting flowers to help people relieve stress from the coronavirus outbreak.

For example, Mapo district government in Seoul sent 1,500 tulips, daffodils and hyacinths to older residents who live alone in order to help them cope with social distancing.

Pohang city government in North Gyeongsang Province reportedly planted more flowers along the city's roads in an effort to cheer up city residents.

Cho said therapeutic gardening has great potential and the center is paying more attention to it.

"We're planning to spread the therapeutic gardening program to 300 schools in Seoul," he said. The center already engaged in maintaining gardens at schools and the center's experts are dedicated to developing therapeutic gardening programs for the general public as well as developing programs to train "therapeutic gardeners."

The center's push for therapeutic gardening has legal support.

Earlier last month, legislation on promoting therapeutic gardening was passed into law, allowing local governments to fund it for residents and train therapeutic gardeners.

A view of Seoul Agricultural Technology Center located in southern Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong
A view of Seoul Agricultural Technology Center located in southern Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong

The center has a long history. Founded in 1957, it was initially affiliated with the Rural Development Administration. In 1997, it changed its affiliation and became part of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. In 2004, it moved to its current location in Seocho District in Seoul.

The therapeutic gardening program is one of many offered by the center for the public. It organized workshops on aquaponics ― an agriculture method combining aquaculture and hydroponics ― beekeeping and air purifying plants, as well as cooking sessions and urban farmer training sessions.
Participants in a therapeutic gardening program will have the chance to plant seeds and nurture them. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong
Participants in a therapeutic gardening program will have the chance to plant seeds and nurture them. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong




Seoul Agricultural Technology Center Director Cho Sang-tae poses in the center's strawberry garden. The center will offer therapeutic gardening programs that would help those suffering depression brought on by COVID-19. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong
Seoul Agricultural Technology Center Director Cho Sang-tae poses in the center's strawberry garden. The center will offer therapeutic gardening programs that would help those suffering depression brought on by COVID-19. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong

By Kim Se-jeong

For those practicing social distancing, working from home, or having an extended school vacation, the joys of remaining at home are starting to wear thin.

People are beginning to miss spending afternoons with friends at coffee shops or the cinema, or walking or running along the Han River banks, enjoying the breeze or the flowering cherry blossoms.

Malls, supermarkets and parks packed with people over the past two weekends were just one sign of how desperate people have become to get out and get some fresh air.

But, "COVID-19 depression" is likely to continue, as the government last weekend extended its social distancing campaign until later this month.

In addition to this, some are dealing with added stress related to the financial fallout of COVID-19 among other issues from the disease itself.

The Seoul Agricultural Technology Center (SATC), a city-affiliated organization promoting urban farming, said its therapeutic gardening programs could ― in the future ― be of some help to people struggling to deal with the current situation.

"I heard many people left their home during the weekend to walk among cherry blossom trees or under the sun in parks. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, people have a thirst for green. The center can meet that thirst," said Cho Sang-tae, the center's director, during an interview with The Korea Times. "The center will offer gardening projects that can have a healing effect for many people."

The program will give a total of 60 participants in groups the opportunity to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs, harvest them and make them into meals. Each group will be assisted by those working on the program who will help them engage in conversations about any common source of stress.

The bad news is that all four initial programs, except the one for schoolchildren, are full. The SATC originally posted an advertisement on its website a week ago stating it was offering the programs for 15 people in each one. All received more than 15 applicants in less than two days, Cho said.

The good news is that there will be more programs rolled out as soon as the social distancing campaign is over so that more people can participate.

Therapeutic farming isn't just about growing fruit and vegetables. It incorporates a human aspect. "Farming brings people together and helps you talk to strangers and make friends," said Cho.

Therapeutic gardening isn't completely new.

Last year, the center kicked off gardening programs for selected groups of people. Altogether 318 the elderly and disabled people, and school-aged children took past to grow herbs and strawberries and make strawberry jam.

With this success in its first year, the center was preparing programs for all age groups on its 7,700 square meters of land.

"We all know Korea is a stressful place to be. Children have academic stress; adults are stressed about work and relationships; and the older generation fights to overcome their deteriorating mental and physical health."

The effects of therapeutic gardening have been proven. According to Rural Development Administration research in 2018, gardening played a role in reducing signs of aggression by 13 percent.

Outside Korea, many reports have also been written about the positive effects of gardening on mental health.

A study published by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2018 analyzed 22 case studies on the role of therapeutic gardening, concluding that gardening has positive effects on human health in general. "Studies reported a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life and sense of community," the study stated.

Speaking to The Guardian, a retired dancer who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia said, "The real learning is in connecting with people and becoming confident in yourself and just feeling part of nature; that is the real learning, especially for people with mental health issues."

He added: "When you are gardening you get very involved, because of all the elements and the seasons. You can't run away from it; you can't feel superior. And by watching things grow, you realize that it isn't always the fault of the plant if things don't work ― it's about the season and the weather. It's the same with mental health issues: it's not always your fault."

These effects from gardening also inspired some local governments in Korea to roll out programs involving planting flowers to help people relieve stress from the coronavirus outbreak.

For example, Mapo district government in Seoul sent 1,500 tulips, daffodils and hyacinths to older residents who live alone in order to help them cope with social distancing.

Pohang city government in North Gyeongsang Province reportedly planted more flowers along the city's roads in an effort to cheer up city residents.

Cho said therapeutic gardening has great potential and the center is paying more attention to it.

"We're planning to spread the therapeutic gardening program to 300 schools in Seoul," he said. The center already engaged in maintaining gardens at schools and the center's experts are dedicated to developing therapeutic gardening programs for the general public as well as developing programs to train "therapeutic gardeners."

The center's push for therapeutic gardening has legal support.

Earlier last month, legislation on promoting therapeutic gardening was passed into law, allowing local governments to fund it for residents and train therapeutic gardeners.

A view of Seoul Agricultural Technology Center located in southern Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong
A view of Seoul Agricultural Technology Center located in southern Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong

The center has a long history. Founded in 1957, it was initially affiliated with the Rural Development Administration. In 1997, it changed its affiliation and became part of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. In 2004, it moved to its current location in Seocho District in Seoul.

The therapeutic gardening program is one of many offered by the center for the public. It organized workshops on aquaponics ― an agriculture method combining aquaculture and hydroponics ― beekeeping and air purifying plants, as well as cooking sessions and urban farmer training sessions.
Participants in a therapeutic gardening program will have the chance to plant seeds and nurture them. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong
Participants in a therapeutic gardening program will have the chance to plant seeds and nurture them. / Korea Times photo by Kim Se-jeong




Kim Se-jeong skim@koreatimes.co.kr


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