Turn on a computer, pick up a smartphone, or try to get money from an ATM, and you will be faced with icons, graphic images that represent things that used to have words. In our multi-lingual and increasingly semi-literate society, icons are being used more and more in place of words. The challenge is that sometimes your interpretation of the icon may be different from what the icon really represents. This kind of miscommunication can lead to frustration, delays, or screwing up your bank account. The misinterpretation of icons may also contribute to the misunderstanding of agriculture by those not involved in it.
For most outside of agriculture, the icons of farming would be the hip roof barn, a silo, an open top tractor, a weather vane, or a windmill. While these symbolize farming to consumers, they are icons of the past and do not represent farms today. This is part of the reason people don’t understand agriculture, because they still have that image of the farms of yesterday. Metal buildings, GPS satellite receivers, and self-propelled sprayers, while more representative of today’s agriculture, have not captured the imagination of the public. The icons of the past still have a powerful hold on consumers and farmers alike. The Pioneer Village at the Indiana State Fair, which showcases the icons of the past, still draws over 300,000 people each year during the 17 days of the Fair. Farmers and city folks flock to see the display of antique tractors as well as the steam powered sawmill and wheat threshing demonstrations. There is something about the old iron that still holds people’s attention.
But standing next to the Pioneer Village is an icon of the new agriculture, the Glass Barn, a very modern structure that features a video link with farmers on their farms. Here Fair visitors can ask questions and talk with producers to get a more realistic view of what farming is like today. The building is full of high tech tools and imagery that stresses the modern and sophisticated nature of farming today.
Another structure on the other side of the fairgrounds is the Coliseum. Constructed in 1939, this building has been home for many historical Indiana events, but, for the most part, it has been the center of livestock expositions in the state for the past 75 years. When it was announced that the building would be gutted as part of a $63 million dollar renovation, there was concern in the ag community that an icon of agriculture would be lost. To their credit, State Fair officials designed a new interior that showcases the past, but emphasizes the future of agriculture. The livestock wall and 16 inches of dirt that make up the Coliseum show arena, combined with high tech video screens, laser lights, and state-of-the-art sound system, give livestock shows a new upbeat and modern look and feel.
While the heritage of agriculture is important and needs to be remembered and venerated, we also need to update the icons that represent our industry. Farming today is science-based and technologically sophisticated. The men and woman who work in it are well-educated and are experts with highly specialized skills. Updating the images that represent agriculture will help give consumers a more realistic idea of what farming is really all about today.
By Gary Truitt