Korean Natural Farming: Master Cho Biography

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May 6, 2019

This article was originally published in Garden Culture Magazine, US18.


Korean Natural Farming (KNF) is a relatively new movement in the growing scene. It has quickly built up a draft of followers all keen to capitalize on the natural world around them and enhance the soil food web already present in their soil. Every giant redwood starts as a tiny seed, and KNF is possibly the best representation of this analogy in the current agricultural climate.

It all started with a thought from the brain of a guy called Cho Han-Kyu, or Master Cho as he is most commonly known. He was born in the year 1935 in Suwon, South Korea. Up to the age of 29, he worked on his family’s farm, from which he then went to study natural farming techniques in Japan, under the tutelage of three teachers: Miyozo Yamagashi, Kinshi Shibata, and Yasushi Oinoue.

Master Cho

When he returned to South Korea, Master Cho combined his learnings in Japan with more traditional Korean techniques of farming, particularly fermentation (think kimchi, but for plants). His ideas were first put into practice in 1966 when he set up the ‘Labour Saving Abundant Harvesting Study Group.’ After years of experience and a few shenanigans along the way, he set up Natural Farming Life School and Research Farm in 1995. The school has since trained over 18,000 people in the finer arts of KNF. Farmers in Hawaii, surprisingly, were some of the quickest to pick up the idea and run with it.

Referring to the events up to 1995 as ‘shenanigans’ is somewhat underplaying things to be completely honest. Master Cho was incarcerated a few times by his government, under pressure from big agricultural companies who did not see eye to eye with his teachings. Considering that most of his teachings meant that a farmer could rely on the natural world around them, and not what they bought off a shelf, it is no wonder why.  These setbacks did not put him off, however, and he continued his work despite their best efforts to silence him.

Even to this very day, Master Cho has been vital in spreading and tutoring the techniques involved in KNF, and it has slowly and steadily been gaining credibility as a viable alternative to intensive agricultural practices, which work with forces of nature rather than against it. It has proved to be one of the most successful sets of techniques that a gardener can enjoy, which you can read all about in the article Korean Natural Farming.

Nico Hill

Nico Hill

Hydro Nerd at Infinite Monkey
After many years as a hobby, I began my career in Hydroponics working for Aquaculture in Sheffield,the UK's largest and most forward-thinking grow shops of the time. From there I began to work for Hydromag, responsible for the hydroponic content. Most notably, the product tests and comparisons, breaking ground in the industry and cutting through marketing hyperbole by showing consumers exactly how products stacked up against each other. From there I worked with CANNA,as editor of CANNAtalk, author of the research articles and delivering seminars throughout the UK to grow shops on the finer details of cultivating in a hydroponic environment. I'm currently writing for a number of companies in the hydroponic industry, of course, the most important of all being the powerhouse publication that is, Garden Culture.
Nico Hill

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