Farm to Fair
By Lauren Houska, Iowa Soybean Association
For many, it’s not about what is on the dinner table so much as who is around it. At the first-ever Farm to Fair event at the Iowa State Fair, it was about both.
Iowa State Fair officials and Iowa’s agricultural commodity groups gathered 500 fairgoers — 400 consumers and 100 farmers — on Aug. 12 to foster positive conversation about agriculture.
Catered by The Machine Shed in Urbandale, Farm to Fair guests enjoyed a delicious meal featuring Iowa’s many agriculture commodities as Mother Nature cranked up the heat to 90 degrees.
The warm weather presented an opportunity for consumers to peek inside the life of a farmer, explained Pat Swanson, a soybean and corn farmer from Ottumwa.
“Farmers have to deal with variable weather every day, whether we are feeding our animals or out in the field,” says Swanson.
Seated among consumers around the largest dinner table ever set at the fair, farmers answered questions like, “How much does a tractor cost?” and “Is organic food really better for me?”
Katie McKeever and Jessica Bethke, both from Marshalltown, were seated near Swanson and wanted to learn how farmers protect the environment.
“Every farm is different, and every farmer faces different challenges,” Swanson explains. “In southeast Iowa, where I farm, there are a lot of rolling hills, which means we need to implement practices to keep our topsoil and nutrients in place.”
She chatted with McKeever and Bethke about several different types of conservation practices farmers use, including cover crops, no-tillage and terraces, as well as a few that farmers operating on flat ground might need to utilize for drainage purposes.
“They seemed really interested and happy to hear that, as farmers, we’re doing everything we can to keep our food safe and affordable while keeping our farms sustainable,” Swanson says.
The Iowa State Fair Farm to Fair event was sponsored by Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Beef Industry Council, Midwest Dairy Association, Iowa Pork Producers, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Egg Council and the Iowa Turkey Federation.
“Farmers, no matter what commodities they are producing, are in this together,” explained Katie Hermanson, a farmer raising turkey, soybean and corn in Story County.
Passionate about connecting consumers to their food, Hermanson was excited to be part of the event. With a teaching background and coordinating Story County’s Ag in the Classroom — an agriculture-focused educational program funded by Farm Bureau — she routinely sees the importance of talking to consumers one-on-one.
Hermanson was seated near Cedric and Barbara Rabalais, who traveled from Louisiana to experience the Iowa State Fair.
“We heard the Iowa State Fair was one of the best in the country,” says Cedric. “We were excited to have this opportunity to meet Iowa farmers.”
Bill Shipley, a soybean and corn farmer from Nodaway, was also seated near the Rabalaises and answered many questions about Iowa agriculture.
“It’s great to be able to showcase Iowa agriculture to both Iowans and visitors,” says Shipley.
Across the table, each conversation varied. Some wanted to know how farmers finance land and equipment while others wanted to discuss trade issues.
For Dave Struthers, who raises soybeans, pigs and corn near Collins, the topic was trade. He started fielding questions about tariffs before participants even sat down for the meal.
“They were curious about trade issues and what they’re hearing in the news and how it affects farmers,” Struthers says.
Not one to shy away from tough subjects, Struthers says he welcomed the questions and tried to help consumers understand the current and potential long-term negative impacts of trade disruptions for both farmers and consumers.
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