Consumers want to learn about agriculture at fairs

County and community fairs across Michigan offer an opportunity to bring agriculture awareness to consumers. Youth and open class exhibitors at fairs can share how they care for their animals and how they produce a quality and wholesome product.

For many people, the fair is only time a family sees a farm animal. While the fair experience is not the same as being on a farm for a firsthand look at food production, visitors can still talk to the person who cared for the animals, ask questions or read information on educational posters. It is an opportunity for the exhibitors to share information on how they managed their animal to produce a safe, nutritious and quality product. Exhibitors are representing the agriculture industry to the public and it is important for them to have knowledge and information to share. There are many sources of information, including those provided by Michigan State University Extension and various commodity groups.

Even at the youth exhibitor level, consumers want to connect with who is producing the food they eat and the milk they drink. That conversation may leave a lasting impression on consumers and they will often share that information with others. For some fairgoers it will be the first time they see a cow being milked. What an opportunity to talk about what is done on the farm to keep the cows healthy and the milk safe and wholesome. Common questions are how much an animal eats, what the animal is fed, how it is cared for each day and how old it is. These types of questions are great openers for youth or adults and set the stage to talk about how animals are cared for and what products they produce.

Some easy facts to remember are that animals are more efficient today. For example in the 1940’s a dairy cow produced 2 gallons of milk each day, and in 2010 a dairy cow produced 8 gallons per day. Beef exhibitors may want to share that beef farmers produce 1.4 times more beef with 7 million less cattle. Additionally, 30 percent less land with 14 percent less water is required to produce each pound of beef today. These types of facts also make interesting signage for visitors to read and perhaps ask more questions about. Many of today’s consumers are interested in the health benefits of milk, eggs and meat, so exhibitors should be prepared to answer those questions or refer them to other sources. Sharing information or doing displays on the byproducts from animals draws a lot of interest too. Furthermore, consumers may not think about how animals are invaluable in human medical treatments and provide products for everyday living.

Fairs provide an arena where a person who raises and cares for an animal can come in contact with someone who might be interested in purchasing that product. Interest in the small and large animal auctions at the fair has been steadily growing in most counties. This may be a result of the increased interest in buying local food and most auctions have seen an increase in the number of animals that are purchased for home consumption. Many exhibitors have built relationships with buyers for future sales and increased their own entrepreneurial skills through their animal project.

Only 1.8 percent of our population lives or works on a farm. Many fair visitors are several generations removed from family farms, making it important for exhibitors, fairs and agriculture groups to connect today’s consumers with agriculture. There are many ways to tell the agriculture story and help bridge the gap between producers and consumers. For resources and ideas visit the MSU Extension Breakfast on the Farm website’s Agriculture Literacy Resources page.

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