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South Korean Festival 'Goes Strong' on Ginseng Marketing

Have you heard about the health benefits of ginseng? It is pretty likely you have, as marketers in both the East and the West have long promoted the root's healthful properties to build athletic strength. But in an increasingly competitive market, one of the world's best-known ginseng growing areas has thrown some new weight behind its sales efforts. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from the annual ginseng festival in Geumsan, South Korea.

Kim Sung-dae has been harvesting ginseng on his private plot of land, right next to a busy highway, for more than three decades.

Ginseng has made a good living for Kim, even in hard times, but the market is not what it used to be. "There are a lot of growers in the United States and China now. The competition is harder, and the profits aren't as high," he says.

Around this time of year, Kim spends most of his time shooing away traffic. A lot of people wanted to park for the recent ginseng festival next door.

Here, marketers do their best to prove that Korean ginseng -- not to mention ginseng-derived tea, coffee, syrup, liquor, facial massage creams and foot bath salts -- are superior to non-Korean products. But this year, the festival got a little help with the "heavy lifting."

The festival hosted a championship of the International Federation of Strength Athletes. While some people golf on weekends, these guys drag trucks.

Two average people have a tough time moving the steel pylons, even with a hydraulic cart. These athletes carry them around like suitcases.

The desired message is clear: ginseng equals strength.

The athletes themselves do not want to sell ginseng short, but they realize a little good old-fashioned hype is going on.

One athlete confesses, "There's no one miracle product to do it for you. It's a lot of hard work. Just ginseng won't help you drag a truck, I can tell you that."

Maybe the best advertisement for ginseng is back on the farm, in the form of Kim. He is 67 years old, but comes across at least 10 years younger.