News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 21, 2013

An inside look: Indiana Soybean Alliance member and Vigo County soybean farmer Jeff Gormong spends fair time educating public in newest exhibit at Indiana State Fairgrounds

Susan Hayhurst
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — With today’s consumers being the third and fourth generations removed from their farming ancestors, those in production agriculture endeavor to bring the farm to the public.

The 2013 Indiana State Fair, one of the Hoosier state’s ag education venues, celebrated the opening of its new $3 million “Glass Barn – a Clear View of Agriculture,” to assist in educating people of all ages.

From its location on the north side of the fairgrounds’ 250-acre campus and as part of the State’s Largest Classroom, a multi-building ag education complex, the 4,500-square-foot exhibit was built in partnership with the Indiana Soybean Alliance. The alliance is the organization that administers how Indiana’s soybean farmers’ checkoff dollars are used for education and research.

“Ninety-eight percent of Americans no longer live on farms today,” said Megan Kuhn, ISA communications director. “The Glass Barn gives special attention to modern farming techniques and the future of agriculture. It will also play a key role in encouraging field trips, classroom and student participation in the State’s Largest Classroom.”

From the perspective of Jeff Gormong, a Vigo County soybean farmer and a member of the ISA board, excellence shows through each area of the Glass Barn.

 “One of the best ways to spend the annual checkoff dollars entrusted to the ISA is to educate, and at this juncture in ag history, the general public is confused and needs understanding of what we are about in farming. Research is important, but education is critical. The money we’re spending on the barn is a great use of our money as growers.”

Gormong said grain commodity markets have been up for a period of years, and the money was available through the ISA to leave a legacy project in a venue where it can be used year-round.

The fairground’s historical Pioneer Village is a glimpse into agriculture’s past, while the new barn brings today’s farming practices to consumers.

“Pioneer Village is a phenomenal history of agriculture, particularly in Indiana,” Gormong said. “But one of the things we fight in our industry is that we are thought of still wearing straw hats and overalls and farming with antique equipment. The new facility honors the history, and it shows people what we are doing now to make their food safer and more abundant. The beauty of it is also that it’s not just for a 17-day use during the fair but it’s for 365 days a year of ag education.”

Another part of ag education is asking dairy producers how they take care of their cows or hog producer swhy mother pigs, or sows, live in solitary crates to have their litters of piglets. Such opportunities are now available in the Glass Barn.

“The public needs opportunities to have relationships with farmers and ask them questions about their food,” Jane Ade Stevens, ISA’s chief operating officer, said. “We want them to know large farms are owned by families like theirs and [that] those farming families care deeply about how they produce food safely.”

The barn’s exhibits flow easily from one to another. The “weGROW” segment features three five-minute videos, each starring an Indiana producer.

Visitors can learn about soybeans from Joe Steinkamp of Steinkamp Farms, Evansville, who runs  a fourth-generation farm where he raises 3,200 acres of soybeans, white corn and wheat. Steinkamp explains how his white corn is processed for tortillas and chips.

Amy Kelsay of Kelsay Farms, Whiteland, shares how their sixth-generation dairy and crop farm milks 500 cows per day and grows 2,200 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. They also operate a fall agritourism enterprise. Kelsay notes how each of their cows produces 128 glasses of milk per day.

Heather Hill of Hill Farms, Hancock County, operates a farrow to-finish hog farm where 13,000 pigs are produced annually and 1,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat are grown. Hill shares they raise enough pigs that they could provide each of Hancock County’s 70,000 residents with 21 pounds of pork chops each week.

The “uFARM” portion is a four-station interactive game that pits four individuals to compete to see who can grow the most crops. And “uEAT” offers a shopping cart experience encouraging shoppers to determine which products include soybeans in some form. And “pictureU” allows visitors to have their photo taken in an entertaining photo booth and then email it immediately to friends and family.

The displays also deal with questions such as: “What does genetically modified mean?” And “If the nation relied on 1950s’ farming practices to produce food today, how many people would go hungry?” The biotechnology part of the exhibit answers these questions and provides easy-to-understand information about modern production practices.

Another effort at putting a face on agriculture includes a display about young professionals who have found jobs as Extension educator, agronomist or plant breeder. Additional careers and fields of study are noted.

The Glass Barn exhibit endeavors to make agriculture approachable.

“We want to have one-on-one conversations with people to help them understand what we do to feed them and the world,” Stevens said. “The U.S. still produces the world’s safest food supply. This clear view Glass Barn helps us to communicate the message in an engaging and fun way.”

For more information on the Glass Barn, go to www.indianasoybean.com. For information on the State’s Largest Classroom, go to www.indianastatefair.com.