One Saturday morning in spring 2009, I took a train from central London, where I live, to a suburb south west of the city, called New Malden. I made the trip with a South Korean friend of mine, Julie: she loves and misses the food of her native Korea; and New Malden, home to a population of around 8,000 South Koreans, is the place to buy Korean food in the UK.
When you step off the train in New Malden, you descend into a high street where barely a word of English is visible in the shop signs. The are Korean cafes, hair dressers, lawyers, estate agents, and dozens of Korean food shops. Veering off the high street, taking a short cut to Julie's favourite dumpling supplier, a surprise lay waiting for us: a slice of rural Korea, transplanted into this urban setting.
Outside a small terraced house, in a long row of very English-looking terraced houses, a Korean man, wearing a wide straw hat, was harvesting courgettes in his front garden. 'I am a farmer,' he explained proudly, then ushered us through a small gate to see the 'special garden' that lay behind the house. And special it was, every inch of it sprouting Korean vegetables, fruit and herbs. There were chills and gourds, tomatoes and salad leaves, and a make-shift greenhouse: only a thin path threading through the garden had not been planted.
A few minutes later we were sharing a breakfast of kimchi and noodles with the 'farmer' and his wife, and heard his story. The farmer's name is Kisik Kang, and he is a pastor to a small Korean church in New Malden. He earns his living as a cab driver, and when he arrived in the UK with his wife and young son in 1995, he found that imported Korean food was expensive. 'So I asked my mother, a cucumber farmer in rural Korea, to send me some seeds...'.
Kang now feeds himself and his family – he has three children – mainly from his garden. Every Sunday after church, his congregation - around 20 people - comes to his home for a dinner made from vegetables he has grown, from seeds sent from one remote farm, several thousand miles away.