Agricultural Literacy at the Country Fair

By Turnbull, Stacie M. | The Agricultural Education Magazine, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview

Agricultural Literacy at the Country Fair


Turnbull, Stacie M., The Agricultural Education Magazine


GENERAL ARTICLE

Many people would be surprised to find that they rely on at least half-a-dozen products of the agricultural industry each morning, in the brief time between the buzz of their alarm clock and their daily drive to the office. When you think about it, you really cannot have an `ag-less' day (Hellerich, as quoted in Jansen, 2002).

We have found that there are a lot of children who have no idea how their food gets to the grocery store (McNeil, as quoted in Jansen, 2002). The vast majority of the population in the United States is two generations removed from any on-farm experience (National Research Council, 1988).

Today's population is ill-equipped to make informed decisions about food and fiber on a personal level (Mayer and Mayer, 1974). A wellinformed population is better able to deal with economic, political, social, and environmental issues affecting agriculture, living standards and conditions (Nebraska State Board of Education, 1999, p.2).

For agricultural educators, it is no surprise that the public relies heavily on agriculture, yet lacks an understanding of agricultural entities and processes.

Numerous groups have recognized the need for agricultural literacy activities focued on the American population, though the majority of these efforts focus on elementary-age students. Two examples which may be familiar to agricultural educators are the National FFA Organization's Food for America program and the Agriculture in the Classroom program, sponsored by the American Farm Bureau and the United States Department of Agriculture.

An exceptional agricultural literacy opportunity may exist that you may have overlooked - the County Fair. When FFA Chapters initiate informal educational activities during the fair, benefits abound for the public, the FFA members, and the community.

Agricultural Fairs

The golden age of the agricultural fair in America was 1850-70. Agricultural societies had become the chief agents for the formation and expression of rural opinion. With the goal of strengthening agriculture, annual fairs aroused interest and inspired success by showcasing innovation and accomplishment (Avery, 2000). Fairs had long educated adults: by the 1930's, large fairs in the Midwest were featuring lectures by professors, social workers, and other sorts of experts and began concentrating on teaching lessons to school-aged children, as well (Nelson, 1999).

The International Association of Fairs and Expositions (2001) lists 3,200 fairs being held in North America each year.

Fairs provide industrial exhibits, demonstrations and competition aimed at the advancement of livestock, horticulture and agriculture with special emphasis placed on educational activities such as 4-H, FFA and similar youth development programs. While enjoying these high-minded pursuits, fair visitors are also able to see, hear, touch, smell and taste the richness and variety of what the world has to offer.

Despite these educational goals, it is easy to forget about a fair's educational objectives, in favor of increasing the entertainment and non-agricultural commercial aspects of fairs.

For example, a photo from an early Nebraska state fair shows students at an educational display. The photo caption reads, "(FFA) club members examine an educational booth at the Nebraska State Fair. Most fairs blended education exhibits with commercial displays" (Nelson, 1999, p. 147). The photo (date unknown) shows three FFA members in front of a `chick Ferris wheel' watching the chicks. Behind the Ferris wheel, there is a display board titled "What Soil Conservation Means to Us". It is questionable which is gaining the greatest attention - the soil conservation display or the chicks. In addition, it is questionable whether the education message, of soil conservation, is being conferred.

Despite the difficulty in balancing educational objectives with entertainment value, fairs can be an excellent venue to conduct agricultural literacy activities. …

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