October Editorial

Written By: Tawny Tesconi, Executive Director
Published: October 1, 2018

Last month I had the rare opportunity to have a “behind the scenes” tour of the Minnesota State Fair. Known as one of the most ag-focused fairs in our nation, a visit to the Minnesota State Fair was a bucket list item that I shared with Saralee and my brother Tim. Sadly, Saralee never had the chance to make the trip, but Tim and I joined around 50 other west-coast fair junkies on the Western Fairs Association Featured Fair Tour.

To put the experience in perspective, the Minnesota State Fair (MSF) is a 12-day fair that had over 2 million visitors this year, with media materials proudly boasting that over 200 animals are born annually during the fair. The fairgrounds itself is over 300 acres, with very little parking, so the “fair experience” is vast. MSF of course has hundreds of food booths and an enormous carnival, yet even with all these attractions, the soul of the Fair is agriculture. You can just feel it.

The farming experience starts before you even get off the shuttle or make it through the admission gates. As you near the fairgrounds from any angle, prominently dotting the horizon along with the Big Wheel is a massive grain elevator. No longer in use, this historical monument that resides next door on the University of Minnesota’s campus is a landmark for the fairgrounds. You see it and you immediately know you’re in farm country, even though you’re surrounded by metropolis.

Along every block of the event fairgoers are bombarded with a taste, glimpse, or participatory farming experience. And these city slickers cannot get enough of it.

For two bucks you can get a bottomless glass of milk (regular or chocolate) offering free refills all day long. The large permanent milk house is strategically placed near the Dairy Building and across from the CHS Miracle of Birth Center, their animal birthing exhibit. Long steel pipes deliver milk to at least eight people doling out milk to fairgoers. Who would have thought the lines to get locally produced milk at the Fair would rival our own Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Younger release week?

They have several buildings dedicated to agriculture exhibits filled with presenters and hands-on activities. The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation even had their own building educating guests about the importance and value of agriculture to their state.

One of the main features of the Fair is the Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition that offers young ladies the opportunity to play host to the fairgoers. Everyday one of the 12 princesses have their torso carved out of a HUGE block of butter. While the princess sits in a freezer for hours getting her “butter bust” completed, the audience asks her questions about the dairy industry and her experience being a farm kid. You cannot find anything more American than this!

I truly enjoyed the MSF animal birthing center that featured almost every specie of farm animal either with offspring on the ground, or close to giving birth. Large, well placed, screens dotted the building, constantly airing video previously taken of animals being born. Chickens were in cages, sows were in crates, and ewes in small pens, and there didn’t appear to be anyone protesting these animal husbandry practices. (I guess they don’t get too many people migrating from California). It was an ag education mecca that constantly hosted hundreds of fairgoers at any given time.

I am still pondering why and how.…. why don’t California fairs promote agriculture in this way? And why don’t Californians celebrate agriculture like Minnesotans? After all, California is ranked first and Minnesota fourth or fifth (depending on the source) in ag production. Is it because of the many industries that provide the economic base for our state’s economy? Is agriculture lost in the mix? Or does it have something to do with how we fail to tell our story? I am not sure.

We need to read the signs. With less than 2% of our population living on family farms, each generation is farther removed from direct contact with agriculture as time goes on. We can’t expect the masses to support us if they don’t know who we are, and how we foster and nurture our lands, care for our animals, or embrace generational farming.
It’s time to step up and bring everyone under our tent. Before the end of the year, your Farm Bureau board will be working through an issue-focused strategic plan that addresses how we can do more in developing public support through awareness and education.

It’s time to step up and bring everyone under our tent. Before the end of the year, your Farm Bureau board will be working through an issue-focused strategic plan that addresses how we can do more in developing public support through awareness and education.

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