In 1912-1913 the University of Minnesota purchased 240 acres in Waseca County, for the purpose of creating a “practical” farm that would operate according to the latest research information and best management practices. One hundred years later, the University’s “practical farm” continues as the Southern Research and Outreach Center (SROC), an important center for agricultural research, whose work has implications for farmers – and those who depend on farmers – around the world.
To its credit, SROC long ago enlarged the concept of “outreach” in its name to include reaching out not only to farmers, but to non-farmers in the community as well. For years, staff and volunteers have put on an open house and invited everyone in the community to come and see what they do, what they create – and why SROC matters.
Because it was their centennial celebration this year, the good folks at SROC ramped up the party. Thursday afternoon I headed down to Waseca to check it out.
In his remarks at the event (yes, “remarks” will forever be a part of open houses) SROC Head Forrest Izuno calls the idea of slyly feeding people a few important truths while they’re pre-occupied with having fun “subliminal learning.” And here, walking around outside on the SROC grounds on an early fall Minnesota evening, inhaling that aromatic combination of animal-scent, wet straw and dirt that says to your nose, “you’re on a farm buddy, and it’s a good place to be,” it all seems to work.
Families are making memories, they’re petting the alpacas, tasting the wine and cheese, taking pictures with Goldy Gopher, enjoying the picnic dinner. Meanwhile, they’re also walking past exhibits from local farmers who raise corn, hogs, beef, soybeans and dairy cattle. And maybe – just maybe – they’re picking up a few nuggets of information about how those farmers fit into the bigger picture of sustaining 7 billion people in a resourceful, responsible way.
Looking around at the crowd of people sharing the picnic tables at dinner, I try to identify which families are from the farm and which are not. Of course, it’s an impossible task, which should not surprise me. As an ag communicator, I’ve long advocated for ag groups to adopt the message that farm families and their non-farming neighbors are much more alike than they are different – they work hard, they’re involved in their communities, they want the best for their families, and, most importantly, they want to be known as people who try to do the right thing.
Sitting at that picnic table in the SROC barn, foolishly playing the game of “guess the farm families,” it seems to me that the message of similar goals and ideals and values – that “connectedness” between farmers and non-farmers – could be the most important thing to come out of events like this. We shouldn’t expect that a real estate agent or a convenience store manager or a car salesperson understand the intricacies of planting and harvesting a crop. Instead, we should work toward increasing an understanding of our commonalities on both sides of the farmer/non-farmer divide.
The fun evening at SROC did that well, with a bit of Ski-U-Mah pride thrown in for good measure.
I salute those who made it happen, and I salute everyone at SROC for what they do to promote and improve farming.
— Written by Mark Hamerlinck, senior communications director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.