FarmFest 2010: Giving every producer the tools to step up and tell the farming story

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

From Tuesday through Thursday, August 3-5, hundreds of exhibitors will show their wares and promote their organizations and more than 30,000 visitors will roam the once-a-year avenues at Gilfillan Estates outside Redwood Falls, Minnesota. It’s the largest outdoor farm trade show in the upper midwest, FarmFest.

Minnesota Corn Growers Association will be found at its usual spot, tent 702, to take part in the excitement. The 6,000-member grassroots organization–one of the nation’s largest state commodity groups–has a message that has been part of its mission since it was founded in 1978–every farmer needs to make advocacy for farming a part of his or her job description.

“We are urging everyone this year to ‘Stand Up and Speak Out for Agriculture’–it’s not just something we can leave for the other folks to do–we each have to join in this effort to enlighten people about where their food comes from,” said DeVonna Zeug, a Redwood County farmer and president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “I know it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But MCGA and other groups we are working with are here to help. No one is a more powerful advocate for farming than the farmer. Every person connected to farming needs to spend a few minutes a day, an hour or so a week, connecting to people and telling our story–you can write letters to the editor, respond to letters or articles in the paper, blog about what you do on the farm, share your experiences on Facebook or over Twitter. Some people are better with in-person events–you can volunteer to speak at a school event or talk to people at a county fair. You can help out at an E85 promotion at a local filling station. We’ve reached a critical time for building bridges to the general public. If each of us can’t make communicating part of our farming business plan, we might just as well plan to get out of farming, because political, economic and social forces will end independent family farming as we know it.”

Tent 702, with the help of grower leaders and volunteers from county corn grower groups around the state, will offer plenty to draw in FarmFest visitors.

MCGA will give away two laptop computers in prize drawings–one on Tuesday, the other on Wednesday.

“We got rave reviews for our corn ice cream last year,” said Jenna Kromann, communications assistant for MCGA. “It’s hard to describe, but at first you taste this very sweet, light, vanilla-like flavor and then you taste corn. It’s very good but the only problem last year was that we ran out, so this year we’ll be prepared for the demand. We’ve ordered a whole lot of corn ice cream.”

As always, the FarmFest booth is a great opportunity to re-up your MCGA membership, or join for the first time. Visitors can learn all the benefits of joining the organization–all the things MCGA does for all of Minnesota’s corn producers. Learn about the partnerships MCGA has forged with organizations like MAWRC (Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition) in order to make research and communications dollars go farther.  One such project located in Willmar measures runoff from farm fields and city storm sewers (guess which contributes more phosphorous to local water courses).

“MCGA and our partners are the advocates standing up and insisting that public policy that affects agriculture has to be based on sound science,” said Zeug. “We stand up so that farming doesn’t just become a convenient target for politicians or groups that want to make points and raise funds by painting a negative and unrealistic picture of what we do.”

And don’t forget that FarmFest is also a great chance to see this year’s political contenders up-close and personal at the FarmFest Forums that are held each day. Minnesota’s governor candidates and congressional hopefuls will appear, take questions and present their views.

And once again, University of Minnesota Extension Service will honor Farm Families of the Year. One from each of the 73 participating counties has been selected, and all have wonderful stories to share that do honor to the farming profession.

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