Fairs and Festivals – great places to promote agriculture in expanded ways

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 second of three in a series of how to provide agriculture education at fairs and festivals and will provide details on some examples of successful activities. These are only some examples, there are many other successful activities done around the state and country.

  1. You may have access to a wooden or fiberglass dairy cow that can be milked by children of all ages. This is always a big draw, but consider going a step farther and including facts about the dairy industry. These could include everything from how much milk a cow gives each day to information on dairy products. Michigan State University Extension Breakfast on the Farm program developed an educational station called “Natural Recycling” to enhance the wooden cow experience. It includes signage which explains that a 1,400 pound cow will produce approximately 8 gallons of milk, drink 40 gallons of water and eat 100 pounds of feed in just one day. Signs also state that the 17 gallons of manure produced daily is applied to the farm field as fertilizer and this manure has enough nutrients to grow 56 pounds of corn. This recycling concept is easy to demonstrate also by bringing in a barrel or tank to set in front of the cow to illustrate how much water she drinks, having bushel baskets of feed to set in front of her, putting 8 gallons of milk below her, and having a 17 gallon tub to represent the manure, and then a bushel of shelled corn. This display has been set-up at several fairs/festivals and agriculture education centers and comments show that the public are learning new information from this expanded cow display.   
  2.  Many fairs have birthing areas or baby animal exhibits. Take advantage of the visitors interested in the smaller animals to include some key points about that species or farming in general. It is ideal to have this area staffed by volunteers throughout the event, but that may not always be feasible. An effective addition would be having great signage and perhaps a designated time for a specific event when each educational station would be staffed and volunteers willing to share additional information with the fair visitors. This could also be a great time to incorporate a quiz, a game which requires someone to put photos in the correct order, a video or some questions to encourage interaction. One of the local fairs has a Taste of Agriculture program which features the young animals along with a dairy cow which is brought in for the three hour program.  It takes volunteers to be with each display which ranges from the dairy cow to an apple station in the horticulture exhibit area to a display of food products made in Michigan. Kid quizzes are available and the signage and volunteers help the participants answer the questions. The youth livestock exhibitors are also involved in the program and have special displays set up in the barns and are ready to answer any questions from the public. Coupons for “samples” of food are also given out at the various stations, and then participants redeem their coupons at the designated food vendors on the fairgrounds. 
  3.  There are many resources available for you to review and choose what types of activities you would like to do at the event.  At Michigan Farm Bureau - Michigan's Voice of Agriculture you will find many ideas and activities that have been done around the state. There are also samples of ready to print signage and other ideas of educational events which have been done at fairs and festivals at MSU Breakfast on the Farm Agriculture Literacy Resources

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. 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.

Watch for the final article in this series which will provide more ideas as well as way to evaluate your agriculture education activities.

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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