Talking up Agriculture

by Charlyn Fargo

Most would agree that those of us in agriculture have a responsibility to educate the general public about the importance of farming and what it entails. As the number of farmers continues to decline and generations are further removed from farming, the task is even more important.

It’s heartening to know that several local groups and individuals are taking that responsibility seriously.

Farmers will be featured at both Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and the St. Louis zoo.

Summer Nights at the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago will be held on Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 8. Activities begin at 4 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. with a laser light show.

Illinois Farm Bureau’s Food for Thought Regional Advertising Group, which consists of more than 15 county Farm Bureaus, is a new sponsor this year. A Farm Bureau tent will be displayed each night and feature a barn scene and tractor peek boards, and a trivia spin wheel. Children will receive an “I met a farmer today” sticker. Farm Bureau staff, members and volunteers will be on hand during the majority of the events. About 3,000 children are expected each night. A series of signs with a message about the food Illinois farmers produce will also be displayed around the zoo.

Further south in St. Louis, the Gateway Regional Advertising Group is partnering with the St. Louis Zoo to sponsor the Jungle Boogie Summer Concert Series on two Friday evenings, June 26, and July 31. The zoo has 3 million visitors per year. Illinois and Missouri farm facts will be displayed at zoo restaurants. Also, on two Fridays from 11am to 7pm, kids can stop by the Gateway group’s booth to “meet a farmer,” get an “I met a farmer today” sticker, and check out two tractors at the south entrances of the zoo. Farm Bureau staff, members, and volunteers will be manning the booth and tractors.

Brookfield Zoo and the St. Louis Zoo provide the ideal venue for Farm Bureau to reach our consumer target audience of women ages 18 to 49 with children,” said Sabrina Burkiewicz, Illinois Farm Bureau promotion manager. “We are able to work together to effectively deliver our messages to consumers. The zoos are supportive of local farmers and agriculture, too, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody involved.” –

When it comes to individual efforts, Bureau County farmer Sharon Covert doesn’t take no for an answer. She still remembers her disappointment when she found very little about agriculture displayed inside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Covert pushed for agriculture’s story to be told inside the Washington, D.C., museum through “American Enterprise,” a new exhibit unveiled this month.

The 8,000 square foot exhibit traces the country’s development through four major eras dating back to the 1770s. More than 600 objects, images, hands-on activities, and videos help tell the story of America’s business history — including the role agriculture played.

Covert became involved in the effort after she sent a letter to museum officials back in January 2009. In the letter, she expressed her disappointment that agriculture wasn’t really a part of the newly renovated museum. She only found a John Deere plow displayed in a kiosk and a model of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.

Eventually, museum officials invited Covert to meet with them. She and others trekked to the nation’s capital to explain the importance of agriculture. Museum officials explained their plans to create “American Enterprise.”

Covert later hosted two curators at her Bureau County farm. They spent about a week in the Midwest, harvesting beans at the Covert farm and corn at the farm of Jim Rapp.

Pleased with the exhibit, Covert said officials presented controversial topics objectively and allows visitors to form their own opinions.

The exhibit also includes an interactive tractor and eventually will include an “ask a farmer” portion, where patrons can ask questions of farmers in the fields.

We want people to know that out there somewhere is a farmer that grows your food, and we’re happy to explain why we farm the way we do, and the methods we use,” Covert said. “We find that the methods we use now help us be more sustainable.”


Share This

About the author

Charlyn Fargo spent 27 years at the State Journal-Register covering agriculture, business and food. She currently is the Bureau Chief of County Fairs & Horse Racing with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. She is also a Registered Dietitian and writes a weekly syndicated nutrition column for Creator’s News Service ( and is co-owner of Simply Fair, a fair trade boutique at 2357 W. Monroe in Springfield. She has bachelor’s degrees in agricultural communications and food from the University of Illinois, Champaign and a master’s degree in nutrition from Eastern Illinois University. She and her husband, Brad Ware, have a daughter, Kate, and son, Jayden. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys baking cookies for Simply From Scratch, a company she formed to support faith-based ministries.

View all articles by Charlyn Fargo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *