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A grand vision for educating the public about agriculture
Well over a year ago, I wrote a less than complimentary commentary about the feuding that was taking place between agriculture groups over educational programs at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

In that column, I pointed out how the lack of vision and lack of cooperation was hurting efforts to tell the story of agriculture to the general public. That column was not well received in official circles. Yet, privately, many individuals told me I had summed the situation up fairly. Today I am pleased to report that progress has been made.

During the recent 150th Indiana State Fair, a special presentation was made to members of the State Fair Commission, the State Fair Board, and the directors and trustees of the Center for Agriculture Science and Heritage. At this meeting, a grand vision was unveiled for what is being called the World’s Largest Classroom. In short, the plan is to turn the entire north side of the Indiana State Fairgrounds into a year-round educational resource for agricultural education. Year-round programming would attract school, FFA, 4-H and professional groups.

The plan calls for telling the story of agriculture from the past to the present to the future. The popular Pioneer Village would provide the heritage. The FFA pavilion, machinery field, The Pathway to Water Quality, and the newly renovated DNR facility would provide a working demonstration of the present. The Discovery Building in the 4-H complex would provide a look into the future. The plan calls for hands-on activities, including crops and livestock.

While the vision is grand, it is also extremely ambitious. It will take unprecedented cooperation and funding by organizations, both public and private. While serious work has begun on this vision, it is still years away from reality. What will keep the momentum moving are tough questions being asked by taxpayers. A recent editorial by the Indianapolis Star raised the issue of what state and federal tax dollars are being used for at the fairgrounds.

While the editorial was poorly researched and missed the entire vision for the north side, it did raise the issue of using the fairgrounds for more than just flea markets and reptile shows.

Taxpayer dollars have brought the aging facility back to life. Now Indiana agriculture has a resource that can become a model of putting the public in touch with agriculture’s past, present, and future.

While the World’s Largest Classroom is a grand vision, it is just that - only a vision. It will take many years of hard work and dedication by a variety of groups to make the vision happen. New leadership at the State Fair Commission and the Center for Agriculture and Heritage (The Barn) will bring new blood and fresh ideas to the project, but it will take the sustained efforts of all of Indiana agriculture to make the plan successful.

This farm news was published in the Sept. 13, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.