South Koreans provide insight on WSFWritten by Saige Albert
“They are interested in expanding the coverage of their event and are looking at what we are doing with sponsorship, legislations and governance,” commented International Association of Fairs and Expositions President and CEO Jim Tucker. “They are also looking to see if they can create a continuing exchange of information on an international level.”
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough visited Seoul, South Korea earlier this year on a trade mission with the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association and Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
“While we were there, I had an opportunity to visit with this group about the fair industry in Wyoming,” Fearneyhough said, adding that the group decided to visit Wyoming to learn more about state support of the event.
Tucker added, “The interest in the Wyoming State Fair is prompted in large part by Jason’s contact with the Koreans.”
“I would like to improve the quality of the festival and get new ideas,” added Park Dong-chell, mayor of Geumsan, South Korea of the city’s ginseng festival. “We chose the Wyoming State Fair as it is the fair with the strongest state government support.”
Dong-chell said of their trips, “We came over and looked around, especially at the fairgrounds and the facilities here. We also checked out new programs and the agricultural program here.”
Dong-chell expressed particular interest in youth involvement at the Wyoming State Fair, as well as the opportunity for agriculture education.
“This kind of festival gives a lot of opportunity for the family as an agricultural education exchange,” commented Dong-chell. “If people live in urban areas, they might not know about agriculture. This is an excellent place to exhibit what agriculture life looks like.”
However, Dong-chell marked the most important aspect of the Wyoming State Fair as the involvement of the state government and the immense support for the fair.
“They have a strong interest in a fair that has the kind of support from around the state and the state legislature, the commitment that Wyoming has made to this fair and the longstanding history the fair has in this state,” said Tucker.
Another striking difference when Wyoming’s State Fair is contrasted to South Korean festivals, Dong-chell noted the diverse array of products featured at the Wyoming State Fair.
“Korean agriculture festivals focus on one item or one product – the ginseng festival, apple festival or strawberry festival, for example,” he explained. “The fair systems cover all agriculture items.”
Individual festivals focusing on single agriculture product creates opposition, he continued. Farmers cite competition and see their products, though not highlighted at that specific festival, are important as well.
“I have been thinking about the fair system and introducing an American fair system covering all agriculture products,” he added.
South Korea’s Ginseng Festival
“The Ginseng Festival is a 32-year-old festival, and it stimulates the ginseng industry in the city,” explained Dong-chell. “It is a very important festival for their economy.”
During the course of their 10-day agriculture festival, more than 1 million visitors attend the festival. The festival is also economically important to both the city of Guemsan and the ginseng industry. Of the city’s 60,000 people, 20,000 participate in the festival to market $80 million of ginseng.
“A great percentage of the population participates,” explains Dong-chell. “It is a really good chance for unity.”
Unity and economics
Tucker emphasized that festivals have strongly supported South Korea’s overall economy.
“The ginseng festival is 32 years old,” he noted. “In the 1950s, South Korea was a war torn country, and a part of the effort by government in that country is to rebuild community to build the feelings of the populations and to help them move forward.”
Over the same time period, Tucker added the South Korea’s economy has built from being equivalent to the poorest African countries to an average domestic product that exceeds that of the European Union.
“It is the most significant increase in economic activity in the history of mankind,” Tucker said of the more than 850 festivals the country holds.
“With 850 festivals in South Korea attended by large numbers of people, it reminds us that we have a long tradition and a long legacy of fairs,” he continued. “Their festivals get together to share the sense of community that has been built, and it has really been a reinforcement to those of us who think an awful lot about agriculture education and may forget how important the state fair is in terms of how it brings us close together.”
“We are all doing the same thing – promoting agriculture,” Tucker commented.