The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University Extension and AgBioResearch presents Agricultural and Natural Resources Week. Founded in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, Michigan State University was the nation’s first agricultural college. This national movement to make useful advanced education available to a broad public was guided by a philosophy to serve all the people of the state, an idea that still prevails today.
Themes have also changed to reflect the times; during the 1960s the space age was topical, the 1970s featured science and cybernetics, and the 1980s bought forth issues related to world hunger. The name of the event has changed over time as well. In 1982, Farmers Week became Farmers Week and Natural Resources Days. In 1985, the event was renamed to its current title — Agriculture and Natural Resources Week, which is also known today as ANR Week. The event now hosts more than 50 programs and annual association meetings.
Farmers Week began March 1914 during the joint meeting of the Farmers’ Institute Round-Up and the Michigan Livestock Breeders and Feeders Association. The event took place at the Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) with short courses in agriculture and home economics. Programs included lectures, demonstrations and laboratory work much like the regular college classes of the day. Programs typically took up at least six hours each day. The remaining time was spent in closely related courses. Headquarters for Farmers Week was housed in room 115 of the Agricultural Building, now known as the Morrill Hall of Agriculture. Exhibits throughout the Agricultural Building focused on soils, farm crops, horticulture, botany, farm mechanics, poultry, engineering and home economics. Farmers Week targeted people interested in Michigan’s agriculture, giving them an opportunity to come together annually and share ideas or concerns as well as learn of the latest developments in their areas of agriculture and rural life. In the early years, the entire campus and surrounding communities were involved with Farmers Week. Students doubled up in rooms to free living quarters for the farmers. They also helped with education and entertainment. Local merchants spent their evenings filling paper sacks with cheese and crackers and other dry materials that farmers could buy in the morning for their meals.
As Farmers Week grew in size, the facilities needed to catch up. Farmers Week 1926 marked the formal opening of the MSC Horticultural Building. The annual Horticultural Show moved to this new location. In 1928, the new armory, or Demonstration Hall, was complete. Most of the Farmers’ Week exhibits took place in Demonstration Hall, while the general meetings took place in the big armory room. Also in 1928, the Horticultural Show included fruit in various displays as well as floriculture, an unusual feature at the time. In addition, the Beekeeper Seminar, a student organization, conducted the Honey Show. During this year, short-course director Ralph W. Tenny initiated a program that became a Thursday evening tradition during Farmers’ Week: six thousand people jammed the arena to hear Leonard Falcone direct the MSU band in a half-hour concert. In 1930, Farmers Week attendees could listen each day at noon to the chimes from the Memorial Tower, today known as the Beaumont Tower.
1934 - 1943
Between 1935 and 1945 evening programs were quite popular. In 1935 Farmers’ Week hosted the first livestock judging contest. The contest was open to county teams consisting of three farmers. Participants were required to place 15 rings of livestock consisting of three rings each of draft horses, dairy cattle, sheep, beef cattle and swine. In 1936, to spark the interest in Farmers Week, a horse-pulling contest matched the football team against the championship horse-pulling team. “Partly because they had more feet on the ground and thus more traction, the boys won,” recalls Ralph Tenny. The 1937 entertainment highlight was Frank Martin of Battle Creek with his pair of oxen. He claimed they were the largest pair in the world weighing in at more than three tons and able to move 15,000 pounds of cargo over dirt ground. He offered $500 to anyone who could match them. The entertainment continued into 1938 when Nellie Curtis of Ionia drowned out all her competitors with the ear-splitting “Err-nee” in the husband-calling contest and William Hale of Charlotte almost short-circuited an electric sound-measuring device in the hog-calling contest. In 1942 Farmers Week hosted the 14thAnnual Rural Drama Contest. Groups represented rural organizations that performed for approximately 40 minutes each.
With improvement to roads, people began leaving campus at night, putting an end to nighttime attendance. In 1945, the Short Course Association Banquet featured Gladys Perrow Wehr, a freelance writer who moved to Germany with her husband. She witnessed the growing interest in Hitler. She was a keen analyst, and viewed with rare understanding some of the stupendous problems the Allied governments would have in reeducating the German youth for a lasting peace. During 1946 and 1947, Farmers Week did not take place because of returning World War II veterans who raised enrollments to a record-breaking 13,000.
The Distinguished Service Awards began in 1954 with the first recipients George E. Bishop, Clark L. Brody and John B. Strange. The dynamics of Farmers Week changed when a 1960 State Journal writer explained, “Modern highways and speedy automobiles make it possible for farm families to drive into East Lansing for the day and return in time to do the evening chores - perhaps a bit late.” Farmers Week boasted outstanding speakers throughout its history. The year 1961 was particularly memorable with the appearance of the five former secretaries of agriculture - Henry A. Wallace, Claude R. Wickard, Clinton P. Anderson, Charles F. Brannan and Ezra T. Benson.
In 1964, the newly completed structure in MSU’s new science complex, the Abrams Planetarium, hosted 30-minute trips to the moon. It was the only planetarium in the world capable of showing the heavens as they appear from the moon to an astronaut in space. In 1965, the Michigan Agriculture Cooperating Marketing Association, the Michigan Milk Producers Association and the National Farmers Organization met for the first time to discuss ways of obtaining better prices for farmers. During Farmers Week in 1966, the Project ’80 projections were released through the press, radio, television and meetings to farmers, consumers, organizations, industries and agency leaders. The goal of this report and projection was to stimulate thinking and action to help rural Michigan be better than many of the projections indicated for 1980. In 1972, Farmers Week was moved to March when the students went home to help with the farms and to avoid the harsh weather conditions. This is also when the Presidents Luncheon began its famous tradition.
Farmers Week 1976 featured one of the most unusual dishes served at a banquet ‒ Michigan-grown-buffalo. During this year, the event featured a special program centered on small and part-time farming, focusing on various farming practices. In 1978, the Michigan Beekeepers Association crowned the Michigan Honey Queen. Energy Day taught participants about home heating with wood. In 1979, MSU welcomed 19,000 Michigan agriculturalists to the 63rd annual Farmers Week. The week included more than 170 educational programs, departmental displays and a farm trade show exhibiting more than $2.5 million worth of the newest farm equipment. A World Hunger Symposium reflected the 1981 Farmers Week theme “Meeting Human Needs: A Challenge to Agriculture and Natural Resources.” The symposium focused on the causes and consequences of world hunger, recommendations from the World Hunger Commission and alternatives facing lesser developed countries. In 1982, Farmers Week was renamed Farmers Week and Natural Resources Days.
In 1984, Farmers Week and Natural Resources Days hosted the Alfalfa Symposium and Michigan Alfalfa Day. Other sessions included “Water: Michigan’s Liquid Asset,” “Conservation Tillage,” “A Big Day for Small Computers,” “Opportunities for Youth at MSU” and more. The 56th Annual Michigan FFA Convention was themed “Keeping American on the Grow.” In 1985, Farmers Week and Natural Resources Days was renamed Agriculture and Natural Resources Week to reflect the increasing diversity of the educational programs offered. During that year, the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Soil and Water Conservation Programs took place. The 1985 Farm Bill sparked the session topic “Choices and Alternatives.” Agriculture’s Sesquicentennial Celebration took place in 1987. Agriculture and Natural Resources Week 1989 focused on tackling new environmental concerns to enhance Michigan’s human and natural environment. Programs included “Promoting Beautiful Home Yards and Productive Gardens While Preserving the Environment,” and “Great Lakes Fisheries: A Resource Under Stress,” as well as a MictroTel workshop. In 1992, the name Agriculture and Natural Resources Week was shortened to ANR Week.
During the 1995 ANR Week, the Kresge Art Museum held a session on Picasso as well as on art historians’ collections. Also that year, a program educated anyone interested in starting a small food business. The theme of “Journey Through the Pyramids” guided the 22nd Annual Food and Nutrition Conference. Participants attended a reception and a discussion with legislators. ANR Week 1996 provided the opportunity for the play “A Sense of Wonder” based on the life and works of Rachel Carson, a leader in the environmental movement. The Michigan State University Museum presented an exhibition of “tall tale” postcards from their collections. In 1997, a full day of professional development sessions focusing on work with children, youth and families (CYF) marked the CYF In-Service Extravaganza. Participants also learned about the pawpaw – a potential new fruit crop for Michigan agriculture. Other educational offerings included “Environmental Education for Teachers – School Ground Habitat Management Training,” “Sustainability of Michigan Agriculture” and “Animal Science Heritage Livestock Day.” The 1998 ANR Week, boasted a vegetable integrated pest management school to train and refresh field scouts, consultants and producers in fundamentals of vegetable crop scouting and monitoring. The “Great Lakes: Five Decades of Change” reflected on the transformation of the lakes during the past 50 years. In 1999, ANR Week brought the opportunity to discuss Proposal 1 in Washtenaw County: how the initiative began, what was included and why it failed. ANR Week 1999 featured the session “Heartnuts: The Unique Nut Tree for Michigan” as well as a session on the value of eating locally. ANRWeek 2001 presented “Understanding the Farmstead: 150 Years of Agricultural Building in the Great Lakes Region.” The 2002 ANR Week presented a grazing school focusing on grazing management. The 2002 event also included a pullorum certification workshop and a variety of sessions including environmental education for teachers.
Cause for a big celebration, the Michigan Audubon Society’s 100th Birthday Party took place during the 2004 ANR Week. That year, the event offered a variety of sessions among them the “Leopold Education Project Workshop,” “Windows on the Wild,” “Wildlife for Sale Workshop” and “Equine Lameness: Step by Step.” ANR Week in 2008 presented the Right-to-Farm Program as well as “Site Selection for New or Expanding Livestock Facilities,” which covered the current sets of GAAMPs (Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices). “Nurturing the Mind, Body and Soul – Including Chocolate Therapy” assisted caregivers in learning to support and encourage through the best foods, health research, environment and bibliotherapy. In 2009, the Michigan Organic Conference welcomed organic consumers, producers and food system specialists interested in interactive educational sessions on organic and local food systems. The 2012 event educated family forest owners about all of the resources available to enhance forest management and pursue emerging markets. The year 2015 brings us to the 100th year of ANR Week. While the topics and interest change, the heart of agriculture remains the same. Here’s to many more years of ANR Week!