AP Photo/Sang Tan
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ROLLING WITH THE HOMIS

A traditional Korean garden hoe has become the “it” tool for spring

By Annaliese Griffin

Green thumbs listen up—throw out your trowels, ditch your outdated spades. Spring’s hottest gardening tool is here and it’s not a rake or a shovel. It’s a traditional Korean hand hoe called a homi.

A staple of Korean agriculture since the Bronze Age, homis are having a very 21st-century moment. Gardeners from around the world have posted videos extolling their virtues on YouTube, and the tool has found an international audience on Amazon, where it sells for $15 to $50, depending on blade size and handle length.

Blacksmiths who craft the tools have noticed a sharp uptick in orders.

“I had been selling homi through a distributor for about 10 years and would send them three to four tools a month, but orders had suddenly been rushing in [through the site] last year,” Seok No-ki, the blacksmith in the video, told Korea Joongang Daily. “I think I exported over a thousand homi in the last six months of 2018, and another thousand in the first three months of this year.”

Homis have an ergonomic curved handle, and the half-moon shaped blade makes it possible to dig, weed, and mound, all with one tool.

Seok makes his homis out of recycled truck springs or metal left over from manufacturing processes. His workshop produces three different sizes, each of which takes around 30 minutes for a blacksmith to craft.

He was not the only homi user surprised by the new attention the tool has attracted. Kim Ji-myung, chairwoman of the Korea Heritage Education Institute, wrote in the Korea Times in 2017, that she was surprised to find them on Amazon. “To Koreans who live in the countryside, homi are like air. That is to say, they have always been a ubiquitous presence around village homes, and in the hands of the elderly women who typically work Korea’s small-scale farms,” she wrote. “There is a saying, ‘Only a fool would steal a homi.’ This saying probably comes from the fact that homi is inexpensive and plentiful.”