SYRACUSE, NY — Want to see cows milked, calves born and honey gathered? While some or all of these chores may seem old hat to farmers, many visitors to the New York State Fair have yet to experience these firsthand. That’s why the nation’s oldest state fair has ramped up its efforts to keep the events emphasis rooted in agriculture.
The fair still offers free live concerts, smaller stage performances, street entertainers and diversions such as an exotic petting zoo, pig races, circus, butterfly room, and shark show. An expanded midway, Broadway Skyliner — a ski-lift style ride, renovated entrance facade and vintage-style lighting represent several of the fair’s most recent improvements; however, ramping up the agricultural aspects of the fair keeps the 12-day event closer to its origin as an agricultural expo established to showcase farmers’ progress and prowess.
Tapping into technology to promote ag can help reach tech-savvy millennials as well as underscore the shift in agriculture to using technology to improve management.
New this year, the New York Animal Agricultural Coalition provided text messages to participating fairgoers so they could receive immediate notification when any bovine mothers in the Dairy Cow Live Birthing Center were ready to bring a new calf into the world. Fairgoers could text “MOO” to 24587 to stay in the know. Exhibit organizers work with area farms to provide an opportunity for a calf birth each of the 13 days of the fair (that is, if everything goes according to plan).
The exhibit provides spacious pens for the mothers with one side exposed to fairgoers who can take a seat in the nearby bleachers to watch a live birth and visit yesterday’s new arrival.
Cameras in the Center also provided live streaming of all the dairy birthing action, and dairy experts milled among guests to ensure all their questions are answered.
Keeping popular attractions looking good helps emphasize the modern approach to dairy. The newly renovated milking parlor also permitted fairgoers to watch live milking of the show cows housed at the fair. Emcees provided an explanation of what’s happening and answer any questions.
Many people are at least one or two generations removed from agriculture. Also new for 2017, MooU tours introduced the uninitiated to production livestock. Knowledgeable guides provide eight daily tours through the Dairy Cow Live Birthing Center and other fair venues. The tours emphasized the many products that consumers use, eat and wear come from agriculture.
Another behind-the-scenes glimpse into farming, the World of Horses tent offered fairgoers an opportunity to see the competing horses and meet their owners and riders, along with special guest speakers that range from riding experts to Mark Munzert, one of the winners of the 2017 National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo. The horse barns are usually closed; however, guided tours allowed guests to walk through the barns this year, with a reservation.
The New York Maple Center in the Horticulture Building showcased the process from tree to table in a life-sized display of a maple tree, tubing and other equipment. Fairgoers could purchase 11 different maple products from a variety of New York producers that occupy an entire wing of the building. Unlike most state fairs in the maple making states, New York also hosts a cadre of maple competitions, including maple syrup, molded sugar, granulated sugar and cream.
Whether pet or livestock owners, most fair attendees own animals of some sort. Bridging the differences between pets and livestock with commonality — concern for animal welfare — helps the public better understand modern agriculture.
The New York State Veterinary Medical Society’s Hall of Veterinary Health offered new interactive exhibits including a tick-borne disease display, dental exhibit, comparative anatomy among livestock display, and welcome station.
The “localvore” trend has certainly helped raise awareness of farmstead and local foods and that can only help farmers that process or supply local food processors.
Many of New York’s food products start with locally-grown foods. The Fair’s Taste NY market in the Horticulture Building and Taste NY Wine, Beer & Spirits Village feature flavors produced in New York, highlighting the many foods grown by the state’s farmers.
Ag history abounds at the fair, including the Grange building, antique tractor display, Witter Agricultural Museum and Carriage Museum. The Wool Center also shares many historic and traditional methods of preparing and using wool.
While a farm would be hard-pressed to adopt the educational outreaches on the scale of the fair, providing more farming facts to the public can only help enhance the public perception of farming. Try these tips for promoting agriculture through your farm:
- Join local and national farm organizations, as well as your community’s chamber of commerce or other general business organization.
- Post photos and facts about daily farm life on your farm’s social media pages. Remain positive and upbeat. Confidently and succinctly address any negative comments, but don’t get drawn into an argument. Not everyone will agree with you and that’s okay.
- If you’re able, sponsor community organizations that your farm believes in.
- Consider hosting an open house or a school tour at your farm. Talk with another farm that has done this successfully for tips.
- Talk with members of the media when asked. Even if you fear the article may be negative about farming, at least you will have the opportunity to share your side of the story.
- Prepare to talk about your operation by knowing your farm’s vital statistics, such as how many acres you farm and how many head of livestock you raise.
- Offer to give a talk about farming at a local school.