At many small-town Iowa summer celebrations, families can expect to see parades, community cookouts and maybe a few carnival rides for the kids.
Greenfield’s July 4 celebration gave kids — and their parents — the fun of holding baby pigs, playing in mini pools of corn and soybeans, and meeting local farmers who grow their food.
The Adair County Farm Bureau helped host the first-ever Ag Adventure in Greenfield last month. Event organizers planned on 250 participants. Instead, about 600 people showed up, according to the number of cups of ice cream the volunteers dished out, said Beth Baudler, an Adair County Farm Bureau member and farmer from Fontanelle who helped plan the event.
The Ag Adventure taught participating families how farmers care for livestock and the environment, while also dispelling common myths about modern agriculture and food production.
"The really neat part of the whole project was that there were over 80 volunteers who helped throughout the day, who donated their time," Baudler said. "It truly was a community effort to promote agriculture. I’m proud of the community for coming together and feeling that passionate about agriculture."
Baudler, who came up with the idea for the Ag Adventure, said she realized the need to educate consumers, even in rural Iowa, about agriculture after she completed the Ag Leaders Institute training through the Iowa Farm Bureau.
For an Ag Leaders project, Baudler asked one of her friends who is a fifth-grade teacher to hand out a survey to see what young students know about livestock farming. The survey responses were "mind-blowing," Baudler said.
"To look at them as a whole, they were not positive comments about agriculture," Baudler said. "There was only one girl in the teacher’s class who came from a farm, and this was in rural southwest Iowa."
So Baudler approached Adair County Ag Works, a partnership of the Adair County Farm Bureau and the county’s pork, cattle, corn and soybean groups, about organizing an Ag in the Classroom activity.
The Adair County Farm Bureau received a SHARE water quality improvement grant from the Iowa Farm Bureau, and the county SHARE grant committee approved funding for the Ag Adventure as an outreach effort, Baudler said.
The Ag Adventure offered 10 learning stations on different farm topics, including grain bin safety, farm animal care, ag engineering and cover crop identification.
AMVC Veterinary Services supplied piglets, and Southwestern Community College provided Lego building sets for making model ag machinery. Southwest Iowa Egg Co-op brought chickens, and Cargill donated eggs on a stick.
Volunteers handed out punch cards — one set for adults and the other for kids. Participants got a stamp for each learning station they visited. After five stamps, they received a cup of homemade ice cream.
Kids were also invited to write thank-you cards to farmers, and the adults filled out a survey with their thoughts on modern agriculture.
"We wanted to make it for all ages because ... some of the huge misconceptions come from home for these grade-school kids," Baudler said. "So that was a big thing for us. We didn’t want to say it was just a kids’ event. It really needed to reach more than kids."
Baudler said the responses from the participating families were "overwhelmingly positive." Many of the participants were out-of-towners visiting family in Iowa.
"A couple of little girls were from California, and they had really never seen all these (farm) animals and had no idea how they were raised, that kind of thing," Baudler said. "It was really neat to talk to them and help them understand how things are done in agriculture."
The local farmers who volunteered at the event all wore matching red T-shirts with the question "Who’s your farmer?" on the front to help put a face on agriculture.
"The volunteers that helped, they had realizations that they weren’t expecting, as well," Baudler said. "They didn’t realize how big of a need there was for this type of project in the community, how kids and their families really didn’t understand how our food is produced.
"Hopefully, we dispel the myths in the kids’ and their parents’ minds that this is how agriculture is done and why it’s done. This is how animals are cared for and why. And you can trust that farmers in your community are doing the right thing."