The Iowa Farm Bureau celebrates its century celebration, the Year of the Farm Bureau, in 2018. To mark the occasion, a special exhibit is on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch.

“Tallgrass to Knee High: A Century of Iowa Farming” opened last month and runs through Oct. 28.

“It’s about a century of farming in Iowa, and Farm Bureau has been, and still is, an essential part of that,” said Hoover Presidential Foundation Executive Director Jerry Fleagle.

Hoover Library Assistant Curator Melanie Wier describes the exhibit in the Quarton Gallery as an interactive experience, with something for all ages. Iowa Farm Bureau is the presenting sponsor.

The exhibit divides the last century into 20-year increments, each with a text panel and supporting artifacts. “We look at crops, livestock, conservation, machinery, buildings, people and farm life,” says Wier. Visitors will find ads, photos and news articles, along with tools and other memorabilia. Many of the artifacts are on loan from the Johnson County Historical Society and the West Branch Heritage Museum.

“We have some Century Farms represented,” says Wier. “Sometimes in more than one time period. It tells a fascinating story.”

Telling the story

Telling that story is the key. Tapping the Iowa Women’s Archives, visitors can read excerpts from the journals of Clara Steen Skott and Alma Erickson Swanson.

“Evelyn Birkby has written the newspaper column ‘Up a Country Lane’ since 1949. It’s a fascinating look at farm life through the decades,” says Wier. The tale of life on the farm is also told by modern bloggers like Val Plagge’s “Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids.”

“It’s interesting to see how the way people journal is different now compared to decades ago,” says Wier.

It’s one of the many ways agriculture has changed. The staff of four worked for a year to research the exhibit and faced its greatest challenge when it came time to edit it down to the final product. “Some things worked. Some didn’t,” says Wier. “We could have narrowed it down more, but there were a million things to include and ways to use them.”

The 2013 Iowa Public Television video “The Farm Crisis” tells the story of the 1980s farm crisis. “That’s probably the part I found most moving,” says Wier. She says the exhibit speaks of farm issues not often tackled, like economics and mental health.

Classes in canning and barn quilts, a farm tour and a farm-to-table dinner are being planned to accompany the exhibit.

There’s fun for the kids too, of course. “In the center of the exhibit is a hands-on space for kids,” says Wier. “It’s filled with things for them to do.” There are board games, digital game stations, farm toys, a reading area, even a life-size milk cow. “We wanted it so no matter what age, everyone has something to do. We’ve found people stay longer when that’s the case.”

Wier is especially proud of the end of the exhibit, which focuses on the future. “It ends on the up and coming, with a video of the 2017 Farm Progress Show. The machinery is incredible. There’s even a tractor that runs on manure.”