For most Americans, there is a serious disconnect between the food they eat and the agricultural system that produces it. You just have to spend a few hours at a county or state fair for proof of this. For many people, food is one thing and farming is another and they really don’t have anything to do with each other. This year’s Indiana State Fair provides a very convenient example. The Fair is celebrating the Year of Dairy Cows. Thus, there are a lot of informational exhibits and demonstrations about milk production. Yet a frightening number of fair visitors do not know that only female dairy cows give milk. I witnessed countless women, most with young children in tow, not know that female cows had to give birth in order to produce milk. Most likely many of these woman breastfed their own children but were not aware of this basic fact of the dairy industry. It is this kind of disconnect that inspired the Fair to embark on a new concept in presenting the agricultural message.
Presenting the story of agriculture has been a big part of the Indiana State Fair for many years. Like many state fairs, Indiana’s is a showcase of Hoosier agriculture. This has consisted of the Pioneer Village which showcased agriculture’s past, the FFA section which shared the facts about modern agriculture, and a building where the various commodity groups along with Purdue Extension touted their products and services. Yet, it was left to the consumer to connect the dots from agriculture to their daily lives. All that changed this year.
With the help of DuPont Pioneer, the Our Land Pavilion has been transformed into the Food Pavilion. In the center of the new complex is the most familiar symbol most consumers have of agriculture: a grocery store. Most Americans have never been to a farm but they have all been to a grocery store. The store is filled with actual Indiana-produced products. This helps consumers connect the dots from the things they see on the store shelves to where they might have come from. Unlike most grocery stores, this store has actual producers there talking about the food products they grow.
At one end of the building is a cooking demonstration area. Here chefs are preparing recipes and answering questions. This is like those cooking programs that are featured on the food networks, only live and on stage. This area appeals to the “foodie” crowd as well as the young family. At the other end of the building, Purdue Extension has constructed an interactive display designed to teach young people about nutrition and making healthy food choices. Parents and children can participate in activities that stress making healthy food choices.
Not only is this approach effective it is positive. It does not scare people about food and does not identify “good” food vs. “bad” food. It allows artisan food producers to co-exist with commercial and commodity food producers. It also helps connect the dots from product production to product processed and ready for consumption. It uses a concept consumers are familiar with, a grocery store, to deliver the message that food does not just magically appear on stores shelves but has to be grown, produced, and processed.
This approach also demonstrates that the various sections of agriculture — local, organic, commodity, and biotechnology — can come together around a central theme: food. All sectors of agriculture benefit from a better informed consumer. This approach will help achieve that by connecting the dots from farm to food.
by Gary Truitt