One major task each new set of Indiana FFA state officers tackles each summer is preparing the FFA Pavilion at the Indiana State Fair for hundreds of thousands of visitors. Staff members encourage them to come up with one or two new ideas for the pavilion each year. This year was no exception.
Why not design an interactive display that could help young children connect the food they eat with where it comes from? Natalie Taylor, state reporter, took on the challenge of designing the Farm to Fork exhibit, and everyone else pitched in.
“We started on one end with a small greenhouse area, so kids could see where some plants grow,” she explains. “Then we added a station where vegetables are actually ‘growing’ in the ground.” The soil was real, but the vegetables were actually made of plastic. Kids were allowed to “harvest” them by plucking them out of the ground.
Once vegetables are harvested, they need to be processed. “We came up with a mock washing station that you might find in a packing center,” Taylor explains. Built from wood, it featured a conveyor belt that really moved as kids turned a large wheel. The produce moved along the belt, under a mock cleaning area, and dropped into a bucket, ready to be shipped to grocery stores.
A bicycle chain mounted under the conveyor belt made it work, Taylor says. A fellow office, Owen Coon, rigged it up and kept it running during the fair.
Kids could take the plastic vegetables out of the bucket and move them to the “grocery store,” Taylor says. Complete with a toy cash register, and coupled with a child’s imagination, it was easy for them to understand they were buying vegetables to take home to eat, she says. The hope was that they would make the connection that vegetables don’t just appear on grocery store shelves. Someone grew them, and someone else cleaned and processed them, before they made it to the shelves, ready for moms and dads to buy.
The final area was a mock kitchen table, just the right size for children. “The idea was that they would put plates of food together, and imagine they were eating dinner with their family,” Taylor says.
Did kids learn from the experience? Taylor believes some did. The interactive things to do, none of which involved modern technology, certainly drew kids in to see what was happening where food was “growing,” she relates.
Check out the slideshow to explore the Farm to Fork exhibit yourself.