• Open the barn door for the public.
It’s transparency to the max for visitors of Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana. They see inside the day-to-day operations of large dairy and swine farms. Now a new feature, the WinField Crop Adventure, does the same for crops.
Using interactive displays, medium-heavy science, and enough gadgets with the wow factor to engage youngsters, Crop Adventure openly shares the story of modern crop production.
Fair Oaks Farms is a working farm and agritourism attraction that opened several years ago. It’s about an hour southeast of Chicago. Some area dairy farmers decided their story wasn’t getting properly told, so they developed a 3,000-cow Dairy Adventure for public tours, hiding nothing. Visitors watch the milking carousel from a glassed-in observation deck and then tour calf barns by bus.
Later, a 3,000-sow Swine Adventure was added, where you see sows in crates and piglets being born and processed.
Now comes Crop Adventure. WinField, the seed and crop input brand of Land O’Lakes, partnered with Fair Oaks Farms to build a 12,000-square-foot learning facility with over 100 interactive videos, games, and touch screens that tell about farm crops. Simulations put you in the middle of a thunderstorm or underground with roots and worms.
The National Geographic Society assisted in researching the exhibit, and Successful Farming magazine provided historical pictures and background.
WinField invested nearly $12 million in Crop Adventure. “It’s a lot, but it’s necessary to tell this great story of agriculture,” says Mike Vande Logt, COO of WinField. “We [Land O’Lakes/Winfield] are a co-op of farmers, so we’re the logical player to tell it.”
In one display, visitors learn about the science behind DNA technology and GMOs, and their relevance to expanding food production. They learn that for every $1 a family spends on food, only about 17¢ actually goes to the farmer.
Dairy farmer Mike McCloskey and his wife, Sue, are among the founders of Fair Oaks Farms. He says the farm is located within a two-hour drive – a day trip for school groups and families – with up to 28 million people, mostly in Chicago and Indianapolis. He dreams of soon building a hotel on-site for visitors to come to Fair Oaks Farms as a vacation destination.
Plans are also in the works for new poultry, beef cattle, and machinery technology exhibits. “It’s not a petting zoo,” says McCloskey. “To continue to do what we do on the farm, we have to communicate that we care about the crops, the animals, and the environment. You can trust us. Come and see how we do it.”
Already, 500,000 people visit the farm annually.
Farm People Make the Best Impression
Kris Weisbach didn’t grow up on a farm or with much farm knowledge, so her visit to Fair Oaks Farms was something of an eye-opener. The Plainfield High School (Indiana) special needs teacher led a group of students to the agritourism and education center last summer.
“If anything was a little hard for me to see, it was those great big pigs confined to those inside pens,” says Weisbach. “You’d like to see every animal go outside and have some freedom. But, I knew we weren’t going to a petting farm. Modern farms can’t be that way.
“I can’t say that I saw anything there that I wouldn’t want my kids to see. It was educational, and I really appreciated their openness. They shared everything. The people were friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. People make all the difference.”