It was 89 degrees with 100 percent humidity on a mid-June day in northwestern Indiana. The hot air rose from the ground in shimmery waves. Sweat dampened the brows of even the most seasoned farm folk. The weather was fitting—the grand opening of the WinField United Crop Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms was a hot ticket.
The Crop Adventure joined other educational and entertaining attraction one year ago at Fair Oaks Farms. The experience gives grade school-aged children and their families a chance to explore modern farming, learn about the future of farming, plant a seed for careers in food and ag and develop a life-long appreciation of where food comes from.
Since launching in June 2016, the Crop Adventure has been a hit among visitors young and old. More than 43,000 guests have explored the roughly hour-long exhibit. After seeing and touching the high-tech tools farmers use, learning what soil doctors do, "burrowing" deep underground to see bugs and roots, and then watch how crop flourish, visitors have left the Crop Adventure with a better understanding of the importance—and complexity—of farming.
"The other day, a woman told me that she hopes school groups make their way down here and spend time in here," says Amber Forrestall, Crop Adventure manager, "because this is how we are able to eat—and they should all know where our food comes from."
School groups do make their way to Fair Oaks and the Crop Adventure. Buses with students from as far away as Chicago have rumbled down Interstates 90 and 65—for about an hour-and-fifteen-minutes or so—to get to the farm.
The Crop Adventure has had a successful inaugural year. And it continues to evolve.
"We're exploring the next steps in the evolution of the experience, says Michele Johnson, director of Integrated Marketing and Communications. "The ideas include small additions, along the lines of Farmers Around the World Mix and Match game or a Feed Everyone Challenge Magnetic Matching game…tactile elements for the younger children to keep them busy as family members take in all of the valuable information. We're also partnering closely with the Fair Oaks team to figure out ways to tie the whole experience together. It truly begins with seed—at our crop adventure building—and we want the entire Fair Oaks learning journey, which spans seed to feed to food, to make sense for the visitor."
Since the opening, the garden that grows in the middle of Fair Oaks Farms has been planted with different kinds of crops. WinField United signage will help visitors keep their corn and canola straight.
The local staff will also soon make a 15-mile trip to our nearest Answer Plot® location to learn from our team.
"Some of the most frequent questions we get at the exhibit," says Amber, "have to do with local crops and growing conditions. We're really looking forward to connecting with local experts to better equip our team in answering visitor questions.
Based on feedback in the first year, it's clear visitors are taking new information away from the experience and finding value in the effort to pull back the curtain on modern day farming.
"A recent visitor told me, 'Without the knowledge of farming, the kids of the future will be lost,'" says Amber. "I couldn't have said it better myself."