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[Newsletter] A Dream that Began in a Most Impoverished Place

Father Michael Riordan Joseph (Chief Director of the Sidore Development Association)


Jeju Island wasn't a prosperous place a few decades back. The St. Isidore Farm was no exception, but it has become a hot tourist spot today. The farm, now crowded with tourists in bright, light clothes indulging in taking photographs, used to be at the center of a village that was particularly struck with poverty and hardships


One Pig was the Start of the History


The history of the St. Isidore Farm, a farm that raises healthy cattle and horses in its vast green field, began in April 1954. It was around the time when Korea was in the darkest phase of history, right after the end of the Korean War. Patrick James McGlinchey, an Irish Father, came to Jeju Island as a member of St. Columban. He began reclaiming the barren land into a meadow. It was the Father's first vocation to raise the faith of the faithful, but it was more urgent to pave a way out of poverty.


“Father McGlinchey mulled over how to pull people out of poverty. He first raised sheep to make garments out of wool."


Father Michael Riordan Joseph, who became the chief director of the Sidore Development Association following Father Impije, calmly explained the path the ranch has been walking on and how everything began.


In Ireland, the birthplace of Father McGlinchey, so many people suffered from hunger during the Great Famine and both World Wars. As a result, women made wool sweaters and sold them abroad, greatly contributing to the economy. Father McGlinchey attempted to bring that experience to Jeju and did likewise. The result was Hallim Hand Weavers, which brought great wealth to the women in Jeju. Even though it was closed in 2004 due to the changes in the industry where mass-produced products began to dominate the market, wool items produced by Hallim Hand Weavers used to be the must-have thing to take for marriage for their outstanding quality.


There was only one road leading into the ranch. It was very rough, too. Almost everything was different from my homeland, Ireland, such as weather, culture, language, and food, but there were also things that Jeju and Ireland had in common. They were the walls built with rocks, the wind always strong, and the good people..."


When Father Riordan first arrived in Jeju as a vet, the basic livestock of the ranch moved from sheep to pigs. Hog farming was more efficient in that it did not require large fields. At first, the ranch distributed pigs to locals. However, as there were many cases where they sold the premature pigs at the market to eke out a living, he brought them back and made residents work at the farm.


This is how the pig industry in Jeju began to make progress. As the farm repeatedly improved the breed by bringing in Yorkshire pigs from abroad and made efforts to enhance the product quality by controlling parasites and managing the quality of meat, more people began to take an interest in Jeju pork.


However, the St. Isidore Farm was not immune to the effects of the 1978-79 swine crisis. So father Riordan had no choice but to return home. It was six months past two years, which was the original plan of his stay in Jeju.


Organically operated St. Isidore Farm Ⓒ Sidore Development Association


The Vet Returns as a Priest


The days he spent in Jeju, where everything was new, were an unforgettable memory to Father Riordan. He eventually returned to Jeju as a Father, as did Father Impije.


"My love for Jesus Christ was great indeed, but to me, I guess I loved Jeju and the people more. I feel sorry for Jesus and God.”


"When I came back to Jeju, I felt like returning home. I was happy and relaxed," remembers Father Riordan with a warm smile. But the path that awaited him was not just filled with moments of joy. It's because the development of all types of systems has brought them – the Sidore Development Association and Isidore Farm – a tremendous amount of work.


"In the past, anyone was allowed to volunteer. Anybody could give us a hand. But we now have a set of rules and procedures. We have a regulation under which only people with certain qualifications can participate. This was unthinkable back then."


“I wanted to run away,” said Father Riordan. But, as the successor of Father McGlinchey, he was overwhelmed with work and responsibilities. The Sidore Development Association not only runs the St. Isidore Farm, but also the St. Isidore Retreat Center, St. Isidore Hospice, and “Soombisori,” a young adult care center. Most of them are dependent upon the profits of the St. Isidore Farm.


"It's very important for the farm to make money. We have made some changes to stabilize the cash flow. Currently, we're making profits with beef cattle, dairy, and racehorses instead of hogs."


The St. Isidore Farm shut down the hog business in 2012 when FMD spread across the country. It sold all of its pigs to workers.


"From a business point of view, it may have been the wrong choice. Pork demand is still high, and prices are stable. However, we made a great achievement when we think about the first time we tried to raise pigs. You know, Father McGlinchey started raising pigs in Jeju to give the pigs to the people here."


The Sidore Development Association is currently focusing on beef cattle, dairy farming, and racehorses


Dreaming of a Ranch with a Live Ecosystem and Environment


It would be appropriate to expand the farm from the point of view of profitability,
but being big is not the only important thing. There's more on our minds.
We’re interested in keeping the things we have in better shape for a longer period of time.


The representative items of the St. Isidore Farm are dairy products such as milk and cheese. The pasture, for which no one had hope, was kept organic during the last decades. Cows feeding on their grass produce healthy milk. High-quality milk from the farm has been a favorite among many dairy processors in the country. Company Mr. Milk, famous for its dairy products, even plans to establish a new company to be based in Jeju for a better supply and a fresher process of milk produced in the St. Isidore Farm.


“Of course, we once thought of making the farm tourist-friendly. It was indeed a good idea to raise profits. But we thought that there would be better ideas."


Father Riordan has been researching and discussing the use of the ranch as a place of ecological education for a long time. The idea was to encourage people to watch and learn about the natural cycle on the farm.


"It would be appropriate to expand the farm from the point of view of profitability, but being big is not the only important thing. There's more on our minds. We’re interested in keeping the things we have in better shape for a longer period of time. We’re waiting for people who have similar interests to us. Our ranch is open to everyone.”


St. Isidore Farm is a place of mutual benefit in which more living things share the good. With the Sidore Development Association, the spirit of sharing and coexistence created by a single pig is becoming more and more noticeable on the island of Jeju.