The divide between rural and urban living is ever increasing. Those of us in agriculture are finding it more and more difficult to connect with and relate to those outside our industry about what we do and why we do it. Enter farm fairs.
Farm Fairs are the one-stop-shop for efficiently and effectively teaching kids about agriculture. On how many field trips do you get to milk a cow, make your own ice-cream, spin wool, and ride on a horse drawn wagon? All in one day, mind you. Farm fairs are an excellent tool to teach about agriculture, but they are a labor of love and require lots of time and volunteers.
Jay and Colleen Meyer wrote the manual on how to run a farm fair, literally. They have been organizing and hosting the Ravalli County Farm Fair for the last 23 years and are quick to share their how-to tips for getting one started in your own community.
Step One: Know Your Audience
The first step in organizing a farm fair is securing your audience. Jay was an elementary teacher who implemented the Ag in Montana Schools curriculum into his fourth grade classroom over 25 years ago. They say the farm fair evolved from there. Today, the farm fair includes many other schools throughout the Bitterroot Valley and they see between 400-500 visit the farm fair each year.
- Utilize your local school boards and administration to engage teachers in the concept of a farm fair.
- Create a rough draft of the plan so they can visualize what the students will be learning.
- Research available agriculture based curriculum resources to incorporate into developing your farm fair.
Step Two: Find Volunteers and Presenters
Depending on size, farm fairs can range from 1-3 days. This means you’re going to need at least some volunteer help to pull it off.
- Start early and ask often.
- Having more help is better than having too little.
- Start by asking local FFA Chapters and 4-H leaders for help.
Next, you’ll want to focus on securing presenters to do the actual teaching. Think about what you want the kids to really gain from this experience. It will be important to make sure you offer a variety of topics. A few examples are beef & dairy cattle, homemade ice cream, bee keeping, and noxious weed control. But the possibilities are really endless depending on the interests and talents of local ag folks.
Remember, it’s OK to start small; the Ravalli County Farm Fair is a well-oiled machine using 200 volunteers and 16 presenters. Your farm fair doesn’t have to be this big the first year, or two, or ever. A half-day of presentations is a great place to start if you’re just getting your feet wet.
Step Three: Secure Funding/Sponsors
Farm fairs cost money. It’s important to utilize your connections to make sure you have the financial resources to pull this off. Usually, presenters are lumped in with volunteers and don’t ask to be paid for their services. That said there are many details that cost money along the way:
- Some school districts will ask for help with the busing costs.
- Providing lunch for the students will cost money (unless you can get it donated).
- Infrastructure for the farm fair i.e. use of panels, fairgrounds facilities
Lots of people and businesses are willing to donate their time and products to help make the event happen, but someone still has to ask.
Step Four: Invite Local Business People and Media to the Event
In order to build some awareness and excitement for your event, it’s important for the community to know what’s going on. It’s a good idea for the fearless leader to schedule some time during the farm fair to walk local media and businesses through the presentations and answer questions.
Doing this is important for a couple reasons:
- Media coverage helps spread the word about your event, plain and simple. A local newspaper or TV channel can help with that.
- Inviting local businesses helps increase interest in your event and may lead to potential support in the future. Who knows, some of them may want to be more than sponsors too—they might ask to be presenters for you in the future.
Organizing a farm fair is no small task. It takes a high level of organization and lots of man power. But the rewards far outweigh the costs. Farm fairs expose youth to a world many of them have never experienced. It gives farmers and ranchers a chance to teach and relate to these kids in a fun, interactive environment. Bringing a farm fair to life in your community is a great answer to teaching kids about agriculture and keeping our farmers and ranchers inspired and motivated about what they do each day.
Don't miss the full Ravalli County Farm Fair planning guide, complete with planning timeline, sample promotional letters, presenter ideas and much more: http://mfbf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Myers-Farm-Fair-Guide.pdf.