Minnesota Farm Bureau Illustrates how ‘Farmers Produce More Than Produce’ at Redesigned Fair Building

AFBF Staff

With more visitors per day than Disney World, the 12-day Minnesota State Fair provides Minnesota Farm Bureau a tremendous opportunity to tell farmers’ stories to consumers, according to Ruth Meirick, director of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Foundation. The organization maximized that opportunity with a major fair building upgrade in 2021 and 2022.

Meirick explained that a $9,000 insurance payout for hail damage to the Minnesota Farm Bureau fair building roof prompted her to propose a building redesign to the board of directors. She presented the proposal along with a budget and feasibility study. The board not only approved the use of the insurance money for the repair and redesign, they bumped up the funding.

To secure the additional funds the building overhaul required, the Minnesota Farm Bureau Foundation launched a “Fare for the Fair” campaign and raised over $35,000 in two and a half months. Meirick credits the county Farm Bureaus and partnering agriculture organizations with being key to accomplishing that significant goal. The organization also received grant money from individuals and companies.

“I then handed it over to the Minnesota Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Committee and they ran with it. They made it a major project and developed messaging objectives and goals,” Meirick said. They were also very hands-on beyond the planning stages, even helping paint the interior walls and staffing the building, along with other volunteers, during the fair.

photo credit: Minnesota Farm Bureau

They also added a modern barn door and revamped the landscaping and sidewalks surrounding the building. All of this was done over the five months between March 1 and August 1.

Another big focus of the redesign was the educational exhibits, which the Iowa Farm Bureau helped with.

“We borrowed their theme (“Farmers Produce More than Produce”) and they just let us run with it. They provided all kinds of collateral, which helped us save a lot of money on the design element,” Meirick said.

While a good deal of consumer-centered agricultural outreach often focuses on the farm-to-fork connection, the “Farmers Produce More Than Produce” exhibit, Iowa Farm Bureau’s concept, went beyond the plate to show how paint, chalk, tires, batteries and other products ultimately start on the farm too. The 2-D exhibit, complete with special glasses, was the most popular in the Minnesota Farm Bureau building and one of the biggest hits of the entire fair.

Minnesota Farm Bureau even incorporated the theme into a game: Visitors to the building scored a prize by identifying – with the help of the exhibits – five things they use everyday that come from farmers and ranchers.

photo credit: Minnesota Farm Bureau

Minnesota Farm Bureau also partnered with three other organizations to create new exhibits. Exhibit Farms created video games and a cube display addressing agricultural misconceptions, while Paulsen Designs was responsible for large animal cutouts and a grocery store scanner that provided information about various display products. Strategic America provided large wall graphics, large stand-alone graphics and created large 2-D displays.

Meirick said Minnesota Farm Bureau paid special attention to representing the diversity and innovation of the state’s farmers, including making sure women and technology were featured, while also giving a special nod to some of the redesign’s biggest funding champions, like the Minnesota Corn Growers.

Creating a high level of engagement was also very important.

“You have nine seconds to interact with an exhibit or catch someone’s attention before they move on, so every one of our exhibits is meant to teach someone something in under 10 seconds and keep them in that space or playing in that exhibit longer,” Meirick explained, adding that accessibility on all fronts, including exhibits all visitors can interact with, were top of mind too.

Minnesota Farm Bureau also mounted smart TVs to the wall, allowing them to show videos about the state’s century and sesquicentennial farms, farm facts and membership benefits.

Though the building redesign was primarily focused on the fairgoer experience, Minnesota Farm Bureau wanted to have some collateral that would allow the county Farm Bureaus to bring the experience to their members after the 12 days of the fair. They did this in two ways: a “Farmers Produce More Than Produce” video contest for students and smaller 2-D displays for use at local events, like breakfast on the farm.

New Horizon Award

The fair building redesign garnered Minnesota Farm Bureau a 2023 New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The award, which honors state Farm Bureaus with the most innovative new programs, is presented annually at the AFBF Convention.