Fair Oaks, Ind., June 22, 2016 - How do you get more young people interested in agriculture and ultimately, careers in our industry?
There are numerous efforts underway, starting in elementary school with teachers who have embraced “Ag in the Classroom,” and extracurricular programs like 4-H, FFA, and in college, Agriculture Future of America.
One of the newest outreach efforts is sure to become a “must-see” attraction for anyone wanting to better understand modern farming and its associated career opportunities. It’s WinField’s Crop Adventure – the latest addition to Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure and Pork Adventure.
In case you’ve never been to Fair Oaks, it’s the brainchild of a group of dairy farmers who decided to build a 3,000 cow dairy farm that’s open to schoolchildren and the general public.
At Fair Oaks, located in Indiana about halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis on an exit off of I-65, you can watch a dairy calf being born while the staff describes everything from breeding to birthing to milking. That was in the original Dairy Adventure. Later, more attractions were added to the complex, including a climbing wall in the shape of a milk bottle, rope courses, outdoor play areas and the Farmhouse restaurant.
The Pork Adventure, with 3,000 sows was also added, providing the public with the chance to watch baby pigs being born in both crates and group pens, as tour guides explain what’s going on and answer questions like: “Is that really a pig?”
Using anaerobic digesters to convert waste to energy, the facility is fueled by cow and pig manure, or as Fair Oaks says, “cutting edge poo power.”
But there was still a piece of this “agrotourism” and educational package that was missing, said Mike McCloskey, co-founder of Fair Oaks Farms – that is until WinField and its parent company, Land O’Lakes, decided four years ago to support their farmer customers by telling the story of agriculture in this interactive fashion.
It was a big idea and required a big investment: $12 million, according to Mike Vande Logt, WinField’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. The newest Adventure opened earlier this month.
"The WinField Crop Adventure, developed in partnership with Fair Oaks Farms, is one way Land O'Lakes and WinField are sharing the important and meaningful work done by farmers, and fueling ideas and innovation to feed the growing population," said Vande Logt.
“Today, 98 percent of the people don’t touch agriculture so we have to help them learn about what we do and how we do it,” explained WinField Communications Director Faye Bliese. “So many people still think of a farmer in bib overalls from about 50 years ago. But we know that’s not a very efficient or sustainable way to farm.”
Bliese said the exhibit aims to help people understand that there are 7 billion people on the planet now, and that the population may grow to over 9 billion by mid-century, and all of those people will have to be fed. “We want to make sure they understand why farmers have to be more efficient and productive than ever before.”
Now, at the Crop Adventure, visitors can get a first-hand look at the soil, the seeds, and the roots, and even interact with a few bugs that can unfortunately hamper modern crop production. Walking through the building, you’ll see how U.S. farmers used to plant compared to current farming practices and connect the dots with other segments of the value chain. Visitors can also view a garden designed to feed pollinators.
Bliese says Fair Oaks attracts over 350,000 visitors annually, with most coming from communities within a 100 mile radius. But WinField hopes to extend that reach by partnering with National Geographic on videos, a curriculum guide, and a website: www.ResponsibleAcre.com
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was one of several dignitaries on hand earlier this month to kick off the new Crop Adventure and applaud the effort.
“This is a huge commitment by Land O’Lakes,” Vilsack said. CEO Chris Policinski and the folks at Land O’Lakes “genuinely believe this is a story that needs to betold in a way that can speak to the 98 percent of America that does not farm, and the 98 percent of America that are several generations removed from anyone in their family that was a farmer.”
Vilsack noted that it’s a working farm and not just a petting zoo.
“It is a place that says, ‘Here’s where your milk comes from, here’s where that pork chop that you enjoyed at the restaurant comes from.’ In the future all of that depends on the crops that are produced, and here’s how that works. And here’s everything that goes into how that works, so the people understand that it’s complicated and comprehensive, it’s also explaining to young people that there are multiple opportunities throughout agriculture and agribusiness that they can get excited about.”
Policinski agreed that there is a need “to excite and engage people in a broader discussion about what it takes to produce the food needed to feed a growing global population.
He said farmers are doing a great job talking among themselves about their sustainability story. However, he said they've fallen short when it comes to engaging consumers.
"Our goal here is to tell the story in a way that consumers can have fun learning about and absorb."
In the next few years, the site is expected to include new adventures for poultry, beef cattle and machinery technology. And plans for a new hotel are also being discussed – in case visitors want to stay more than one day. For more information, visit: http://fofarms.com/