Sometimes, just getting out of the house and off the farm mid-winter and having a change of scenery can lift your spirits.
You don’t have to drive far or spend a lot of money. For me, it helps my mental outlook by walking through the local nursery, humid and warm and loaded with blooming plants. For farmers, my guess is that an indoor farm show filled with lots of horsepower, the latest gadgets, free snacks and other farmers would have the same effect.
I think that’s one of the secrets for success for the Central Minnesota Farm Show in St. Cloud. The show, which marked its 53rd year in late February, takes over the downtown city civic center. With more than 380 vendors, daily seminars and free coffee, donuts, milk and cookies, attracts thousands of visitors. Billed as the largest indoor farm show in the state, the event is hosted by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and run by volunteers.
Yep, you read right. A farm show committee provides leadership for the effort and the chamber provides one paid person to help manage it.
“The St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce is committed to helping area farmers through the organization and sponsorship of the Central Minnesota Farm show,” says Sheri Wegner, the chamber’s farm show coordinator. “We are very unique. We are the only farm show [in the state] not run as a for-profit business. It’s the one non-profit Chamber of Commerce event we do, and it is run by volunteers. I am the only paid staff that coordinates it.”
Another exceptional part of the show is its connection to helping high school and college students with future careers in agriculture. Since 1998, the farm show committee has awarded $77,000 in scholarships to central Minnesota students who plan to go on ag-related careers. Scholarships initially were $500 each and later were increased to $1,000 with six or so students per year receiving scholarships. Donations from vendors, local businesses and individuals help fund the scholarship program.
Applications are reviewed by the scholarship selection committee and students are evaluated on involvement in ag education and programs, future agriculture-related education plans, leadership involvement, volunteerism and grade point average.
“Involvement in agriculture and volunteerism is weighted heavier than grades,” Wegner adds. “Those show more character than grades.”
The past few years, more than 70 students have applied. Farm show organizers tried something new this year to increase scholarship funding, so they could award 10 $1,000 scholarships. They promised to match up to the first $5,000 in scholarship donations received. Enough funding was raised this year to announce seven $1,000 scholarships on Feb. 27.
Winners will receive their scholarships from farm show committee members who attend high school award ceremonies throughout the region in the spring to personally greet and congratulate those students.
The 2019 Central Minnesota Farm Show winners are (high school) Cael Carlson, Willmar Senior High School; Holly Keppers, Holdingford High School; Makenna Ludwig, Eden Valley-Watkins High School; Julia Welle, Melrose High School; (college) Kayla Kutzke, South Dakota State University; Jalissa Johnson, University of Minnesota, Morris; Ashley Maus, South Dakota State University.