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FPS landscapers tell all

Who is responsible for all of those mums? How long does it take to get the show grounds ready? Here’s a look behind the scenes from the folks who do it all.

Jill Loehr, Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer

August 25, 2017

3 Min Read
SHOW READY: A monumental effort goes into making the Farm Progress Show grounds ready for visitors. “Our team will typically work 10-hour days, seven days a week depending upon weather,” says Barb Dornfeld, Xylem Ltd. “We work rain or shine unless it is storming or lightning.”

The Farm Progress Show is the country’s largest outdoor ag event and covers 2.9 million square feet of exhibit area. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Literally. From grass lots and wood chips to elaborate waterfalls, ponds and flowerbeds, the landscape is diverse, and Farm Progress Show landscapers work almost day and night for more than a month leading up to showtime.

Two preferred Farm Progress Show landscaping companies, Xylem Ltd., Cordova, Ill., and Farm Show Landscape Service, Watseka, Ill., share details on their landscaping teams and what it takes to beautify the show grounds.

• There’s no place like home. The landscaping companies move into the show grounds roughly 30 days before the show starts. They bring everything — including the kitchen sink, says Barb Dornfeld, Xylem farm show coordinator.

“We call it Tent City,” says Becky Gregory, Farm Show Landscape Service, and it’s complete with showers, kitchens, sleeping quarters and workspaces. “We have our own little compound,” she notes. “We bring everything you might need to live for two to three months.”

Gregory; her husband, Dan; and son, Nick; own and operate Farm Show Landscape Service. “The landscapers are the first in and the last to leave,” she adds.

Landscapers start from ground zero. Why does show prep take so long? Most exhibits start with an empty grass lot that the landscaping teams spray and mow. There are fences to put in and decorative stone blocks to install, Dornfeld explains, and the landscaping beds are filled just before the show. 

It takes teamwork. Xylem has 30 workers during its peak preparation period leading up to the main event. “Our team will typically work 10-hour days, seven days a week, depending upon weather,” she explains. “We work rain or shine unless it is storming or lightning.”

They pull all-nighters. The two to three days before the show are the hardest, Gregory says. Most team members work night and day to get the job done. Why? “It never fails; something comes up,” she says. “The weather or last-minute changes — something always happens right before the show.”

They work now and rest later. There’s no time to celebrate on opening day. Landscaping teams work extremely hard keeping plants watered in the sweltering heat, touching up displays and emptying air-conditioning storage units. Rain events during the show mean more mulch and wood chips for soggy sites.

They work back-to-back farm shows. As the landscaping teams care for their visual masterpieces at the Farm Progress Show, Dornfeld and Gregory look ahead toward Husker Harvest Days, which kicks off on Sept. 12 this year. The Tradeshow News Network ranks Farm Progress Show and Husker Harvest Days as the nation’s largest outdoor trade shows. Xylem and Farm Show Landscape Service move from one massive farm show to the next.

It’s not over when the show’s over. After the Farm Progress Show, landscaping team members return to the lots for cleanup detail, and exhibit areas are restored to their preshow condition. All landscaping materials — including mulch, plants, mums and more — are removed from the site, Dornfeld notes.

The cleanup effort takes roughly 20 to 30 days, she adds, depending on weather conditions.

“Sometimes, it gets so late in the year, we start talking about celebrating Thanksgiving on the show grounds,” Gregory says with a chuckle. “It’s OK though, it’s kind of like a family reunion every year.”

For Dornfeld and the Xylem team, it’s all in a day’s work. “We greatly appreciate the local businesses, as they are extremely friendly and accommodating to the groups that attend and provide the services at the Farm Progress Show,” she says.

The Farm Progress Show is Aug. 29-31 in Decatur, Ill. For more information, visit

Check out the infographic below for more landscaping details.


About the Author(s)

Jill Loehr

Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer, Loehr

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