The Value Garden isn’t a Bargain Store

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Eunhee Shin, Director of Value Garden in Seoul, South Korea
Homemade grape jam, a gift from NAME
Homemade grape jam, a gift from Eunhee

The image above is a little jar of home made grape jam. It was a simple gift to us, and we enjoyed it. No economic instruments were exchanged in giving or accepting it, yet both in the act of giving and the materiality of the object, it has value.

Last week, Suhee told me that there was a community center here in Seoul called “Value Garden” that wants to host a screening of Final Straw with us. When I heard the name, I laughed and joked “Is it a bargain store? Or a cheap garden supply outlet?”

That move got me in trouble. Suhee didn’t laugh with me, but was sincerely puzzled as to why I thought the name was so funny. I replied – sometimes an error in judgment itself – “It just sounds like the kind of store that would be next to McFrugals or Big Lots. You know?”

Again. Solid cold stare from Suhee. Beedy black eyes. Furrowed brow.

Well we met Eunhee Shin today, the woman today who founded “Value Garden” — she gifted us the grape jam pictured above — and low-and-behold, her organization isn’t a cheap garden supply store, but rather a small and active center that promotes social well being and sits just outside of the lavish “Gangnam” area of Seoul.

Listening to Eunhee, I learned that Value Garden hosts a regular schedule of “value talks” which cover topics such as how to live ecologically in the city, how worker co-operatives function and why they are useful. As well, they also hold screenings and talks from projects like ours.

I felt like I just got checked into the boards.

I know that value is not an economic word, I know that there are so many kinds of value which exist outside of consumer goods, I know that value is a characteristic held by every thing and every action on this earth regardless of whether or not we can categorize and measure it. Yet the word “value” itself still instinctively retained an extremely narrow and unrealistic meaning that had been impressed upon me as a cultural norm since birth. Money, bargain, saving, and sadly today… surviving. For most of us, all of these words are synonymous with value.

And so it goes. Value is a terribly corrupted word in our modern culture. Much the same as is green, or organic, or natural.

Eunhee Shin, Director of Value Garden in Seoul, South Korea
Eunhee Shin, Director of Value Garden in Seoul, South Korea

As I listened today to yet another organization director who, like our ourselves, aims at reinstating things like empathy, compassion, connection, and environmental well being as core values, I also saw – by merit of my own faults in judgment – how big of a wall we must tear down, and how much humility we must have in order for the human race to see “value” correctly again, to see “value” with truth in it.

For us to see compassion, health, love, and peace as synonymous with the word “value” would mean that we have come to take these characteristics on within ourselves, as our own core values. That is something to strive towards.

The Value Garden in Seoul asks the community to challenge their own ideas of what value means, it asks visitors to think critically and to grow the values that they cherish most, until perhaps one day, the news will have a compassion and happiness index instead of (or next to) a stock index.

And perhaps one day, I won’t instinctively laugh at a name like Value Garden.

There is hope in that.

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