The end is in sight for the Indiana State Fair, and other state fairs around the Midwest are either over or will be over soon. When they close, a teachable moment for agriculture — especially livestock agriculture — will also end. Research shows that one of the biggest reasons people come to the fair is to see the animals. For many urban folks, this may be the first and only time they get close enough to touch a cow, pig, goat, sheep, or horse. This is a teachable moment when consumers are open and interested in learning about livestock. Are we making the most of this moment?
Walking through the livestock barns at the State Fair, I hear more questions than answers: “What are those?” “What are they doing?” When I scan the faces of the audience during the 4-H competition or the open shows, they fall into two groups, those who know what is going on and those who are clueless about what they are watching. The latter group tends not to stay around long.
The Missouri livestock sector has developed a program to address this issue. It is called “Let’s Talk Livestock” and, according to Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe, “It is a program to showcase livestock that is beneficial to both exhibitors and to the general fairgoing public as it provides interaction and education between the two.” Missouri 4-H and Missouri FFA youth exhibitors, their families, project leaders, and teachers have volunteered their time to conduct demonstrations throughout the 2015 fair. The featured animal will be present at each 20 minute demonstration with an opportunity for questions and interaction from fairgoers. Exhibitors will focus on animal preparation and nutrition and will share personal stories, including information on showing livestock at the state fair.
In years past, the Indiana State Fair had Barn Tours, which were tours of the livestock barns with guides to explain what visitors were seeing and to answer questions. Those were not present at the 2015 Fair. During the World’s Largest Male Hog competition at this year’s Fair, a couple from New Jersey approached one of the HAT reporters covering the event with questions about the competition and the hog. They were under the impression that these massive porcine specimens would wind up in the food supply.
While these kind of programs are great and very effective, they do require money and manpower to operate. Perhaps even something as simple as posters in the barns to explain what visitors are looking at would be educational. Or, if you want to go high tech, how about a few video monitors running short 30 second clips on various aspects of animal care, food production, 4-H competitions, and the like?
If a Fair visitor walks through a barn and comes away with even one new thought about animal agriculture or where his meat comes from, we have succeeded in making the most of that teachable moment.
By Gary Truitt