We talk about and do a lot for ag literacy in Minnesota.
Farm organizations are diligent about offering training opportunities for members to learn how to engage consumers in discussions about agriculture. Some commodity checkoff funds have been used to support broad consumer education efforts. We’ve learned that when we pool our talents, knowledge and financial resources, we present a better, inclusive package of information to those interested in food production.
The greater Minnesota farm family has another partner engaged in ag literacy — the Oliver Kelley farm and its staff near Elk River.
In early May, the farm, operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, held an open house to mark completion and the public opening of its new $14.5 million visitors center, picnic annex and outbuildings. The state Legislature approved $10.5 million for the project, with private donors, agribusinesses and state farm organizations kicking in another $4 million. More than 2,000 visitors attended that weekend. Prior to the renovation, the Kelley farm averaged 30,000 visitors annually. Projections forecast that number increasing by 50% over the next few years.
When folks come to the farm now, not only will they experience hands-on learning of 1860s food production, they also will see examples of modern farming. In the past, the quaintness of watching and participating in chores done by costumed staff well-versed in 19th-century farming practices and household chores was the draw. Visitors helped pitch hay through the barn mow floor to cattle below, shuck corn with a manual sheller, plow with an oxen team, roll out cookie dough and sew fine stitches on a loomed quilt.
Now, they can do that plus tour a 10-acre site planted with today’s commonly grown crops, such as corn, soybeans and sugarbeets; stop at the Farm Lab Barn and see modern livestock; and take a walk down the Food Trail for hands-on activities at protein, dairy, fruit, vegetable and grain exhibits to learn how food moves from farm to table.
“This is a good investment for us,” said Adam Birr, Minnesota Corn Growers executive director and CEO. He was one of dozens of Kelley farm supporters who attended a VIP breakfast prior to the open house. “It fit into our strategic plan to engage with the public.” Birr added that what sold corn growers on supporting the Kelley upgrade was its goal to educate consumers about modern food production.
“The number of people that came together [on the Kelley renovation] was amazing,” Birr said. “Also, historical society and farm staff worked with us and others to design the messaging. Kudos to them. They have been great partners.”
A solid foundation has been laid for modern ag literacy, less than an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities. I hope that state farm organizations and commodity groups continue their strong support, both financially and with other resources, such as volunteering to provide livestock and machinery for exhibits, and for serving as long-term advisers.
The educational reach is long, with the new facilities capable of accommodating 400 students per day during the school year. And if visitor numbers increase by 50%, those will be some impressive numbers impacting ag literacy.
Here’s to sharing Kelley farm experiences with consumers!