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Agriculture to be Key in New Smithsonian Exhibit

Agriculture to be Key in New Smithsonian Exhibit

American Enterprise exhibit is focus of new exhibit to open Spring 2015, and the Smithsonian has teamed with Farm Bureau to find donations.

Folks from the Smithsonian Institution made a trip to Nashville, Tenn. this week to attend the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation. They're looking for representative items to help tell the story of American Enterprise in a new exhibit under development and agriculture will be a big part o the final project.

FIRST GIFT: Tennessee Farm Bureau member Pat Campbell (foreground) signs the deed of gift paperwork for the Smithsonian American Enterprise exhibit for the first donation as Curator Peter Leibhold looks on. Campbell provided photos, an electronic ear tag and reader, from his Spring Hill, Tenn., dairy operation.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is reaching out to the farm community and they're partnering with Farm Bureau to get the job done. They even got their first donation to the program from Tennessee member Pat Campbell, Spring Hill, Tenn. Campbell is giving the project a selection of photographs, a computer cow tag and a tag reader - a vintage DeLaval unit - to help tell the story of how technology plays a role in dairying. Campbell milks about 90 cows at Cleburne Jersey Farm.

This project, which will include agriculture, will not have farming as the sole focus. Peter Leibhold, museum curator and chair of the Division of Work and Industry, puts the 8,000 square foot space into perspective. "I know it's not much space in agriculture, hardly enough to turn a combine around in, but for us it's a major undertaking," he says. "This will be a 20-year show that will open the spring of 2015."

Leibhold notes that agriculture will not be centered in its own "ag hall" where it could be sectored off more as an oddity to visitors. Instead, the exhibit will highlight agriculture for its integral part of the growth of American enterprise. He notes that in the past 70 years the industry has undergone tremendous change which has affected not just farmers but also "every American and the American experience in general."

He notes since the 1770s there has been a shift from extensive to intensive agriculture. "We're producing more food with fewer people and less land than ever before," Leibhold explains.

The American Enterprise exhibit will be divided into four periods:

* 1770s to 1860s - rise of the market economy

* 1860 to 1960s - the beginning of the population move from rural to urban areas

* 1930s to to 1970s - rise of the consumer economy, which includes the green revolution

* 1970s to 2010s - the global period

Julie Anna Potts, executive vice president and treasurer for AFBF remarks that "agriculture has played a vital role in the development of America's business sector, from innovation and enterprise to the entrepreneurial spirit that has always been a major focus of America's farm and ranch families." She notes that for now AFBF is a partner in the program and involved in the steering committee.

On National Agriculture Day, March 19, the Smithsonian will unveil a new Web portal where the public can upload stories about technologies and innovation that have changed their work lives. The site address is

According to the announcement of the exhibit, the ag section will tell ag's story through objects including Eli Whitney's cotton gin, a 1920s Fordson tractor, Barbara McClintock's microscope and Stanley Cohen's recombinant DNA notebook. But they're looking for more and they'll be using social media to gather information. "We're reaching out through social media, and that scares us, but it will allow us to have more conversations with people and make it easier for them to contribute their stories to the project," Leibhold says.

The exhibit will be open for at least 20 years, which is why gathering a lot of useful information is key. And the exhibit will be updated as needed to make sure the most current information remains relevant, Leibhold says. Participants will want to look through old photo albums, talk to relatives and think about what has changed for them, their family and their environment. Key areas to look at include technology, biotechnology, debt and its use, environment concerns and issues, competition, food safety, animals agriculture, water issues and farm labor. 

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