Fairs and Festivals – great places to promote agriculture and utilize many resources

County fairs and local festivals provide a great venue for promoting agriculture to consumers. With advance planning you can provide exhibits which tell consumers about agriculture and expand on it as other volunteers decide to join in to help.

With only 1.8 percent of the population providing food for the other 98 percent, there is a huge opportunity to provide information and education about agriculture and food production. Most fairs and festivals draw a large audience who are not familiar with where their food comes from and the variety of food grown and processed in Michigan. This article is the third of three in a series of how to provide agriculture education at fairs and festivals and will provide ideas for exhibits and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the activities.

  1. Many fairs already do a great job with agricultural education exhibits. Don’t hesitate to be creative in bringing the farm to the fair. One of the county fairs has volunteers who plant corn, oats, wheat and soybeans in large containers which can be brought into the fair to show the public what the field looks like, how the crop grows and what products that crop is made into. Fair visitors are often amazed at the size of round hay bales which are also part of the exhibit and that provides another opportunity to feature a crop which is important to agriculture. Attendees can feel the corn, wheat, oats and soybeans and learn what products are made from it. Appropriate signage explains how the crop grows and what farmers do to produce the crops. Visitors are also interested in facts about the product and are usually amazed to learn that today one acre of wheat produces 5110 loaves of bread. Signage or exhibits can focus on all aspects of animal and crop production and should contain key messages. With today’s technology, videos and pictures can be used to take the public on a virtual tour of a farm or through the phases of safe food production.
  2.  If your fair is fortunate to have a milking parlor on the grounds this provides a great opportunity to educate the public about dairy. You will need signage to explain what is happening. It is ideal if someone can be there to narrate all the steps involved in the process of producing safe, wholesome and nutritious milk for everyone, but when it is not possible why not have pictures on a large sign or a video that shows how milk gets from the cow to the table.
  3.  There are many resources available for you to obtain information and facts for signage. Every major agriculture commodity group has information or links on their website or Facebook pages. Michigan Farm Bureau - Michigan's Voice of Agriculture has many ideas and activities, as well as Agriculture facts. There are also samples of ready to print signage and other ideas of educational events which have been done at fairs and festivals at Michigan State University Extension's Breakfast on the Farm Agriculture Literacy Resources
  4.  Remember to evaluate your agriculture education activities. This can be as simple as asking fair visitors what they enjoyed the most and what they learned to having a short survey which asks more specific questions. If there is an opportunity to provide a written or computerized survey, you can also ask questions such as their prior knowledge of agriculture, whether their knowledge or understanding of agriculture increased, what new information they learned, if their confidence in Michigan agriculture increased, if their attitude toward agriculture changed, if they will purchase more food products as a result of the activity, what they enjoyed the most, and what suggestions or questions they might have. The next step then is to summarize the comments and information and use the data to improve or adjust the next year’s activity.

The public is interested in learning about the production cycle, how farmers take care of their animals, how they protect the environment and how they make sure the food they produce is safe and nutritious to eat. Anyone involved in agriculture at any level agrees that it is important to educate others about agriculture.  For more information and ideas, visit the Breakfast on the Farm agricultural literacy resources page or contact me, MSU Extension agriculture literacy educator, at thelenn@anr.msu.edu.

Other articles in this series:

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