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Oregon ag exhibit coming to a county fair near you

Traveling exhibit will help tell the Oregon agriculture story

Oregon’s county fair season hits its stride next week with a visually attractive exhibit that reminds Oregonians just how important agriculture is. The Marion County Fair will be the first of seven county fairs this summer to proudly display a new traveling exhibit called, “Telling the Oregon Agriculture Story”. With more than 1.5 million visitors attending county fairs in Oregon last year, chances are good that many fair goers this summer will learn more about agriculture.

“We are bringing county fairs back to their agricultural roots,” says Laura Barton, trade development manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Many people don’t always think of a county fair as a place to learn about and connect with agriculture. So we are very excited about providing a colorful way to showcase interesting facts and important details of how Oregon agriculture contributes to the state’s economy and, specifically, to the communities where these fairs are located.”

Thanks to a $17,000 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant awarded last year, ODA has collaborated with the Oregon County Fair Commission and the Oregon Fairs Association to develop the mobile exhibit, which combines stunning photography of specialty crops with fun and interesting facts as part of an interactive module that can travel from fair to fair. The exhibit covers the top 20 specialty crops in Oregon with industry-specific information to complement the photos. While many of the messages remain the same no matter the venue, there will be some customized information specific to the county in which a fair is located. Marion County gets the first opportunity to use the new exhibit during its run, July 12-15. As the summer unfolds, Jackson, Coos, Curry, Benton, Umatilla, and Clackamas county fairs will also host the exhibit. More counties are interested in participating, but due to logistics and the overlap of many fairs, this inaugural season of “Telling the Oregon Agriculture Story” will be confined to the seven fairs.

“Next year, we hope the exhibit travels to even more fairs,” says Barton. “ODA staff and industry partners will be attending these fairs as well. We hope the messages will resonate and people will have a ‘wow, I had no idea’ moment.”

For example, fair attendees might be fascinated to learn that a cherry tree has about 7,000 cherries on it, enough to fill about 28 cherry pies. Instead of providing a litany of dry facts, the information displayed in the exhibit regarding Oregon’s important agricultural commodities will be presented in a way that non-farmers can relate to.

The exhibit will also provide a geography lesson– showing the areas in Oregon where the crops are grown as well as the importance of where Oregon agricultural products are sold.

“One of the key messages focuses on the importance of the global economy,” says Barton. “We are very excited about getting our products marketed locally, but most Oregonians probably don’t realize that a great majority of what we produce makes its way overseas. The exhibit provides some facts about agricultural exports, including an illustrated map of where our products go, whether they are sold locally, regionally, in other parts of the US, or internationally.”

The federal grant making this all possible is confined to projects tied to specialty crops, defined as commonly recognized fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops. Oregon ranks fifth in the nation in production of specialty crops. Since the exhibit is being paid for by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, any specific messages about non-specialty crops in Oregon, including livestock, need to be paid for by those industry sectors themselves. Dairy and beef organizations are stepping up and contributing to the exhibit. When the display comes to Umatilla County in August, wheat may be represented.

“We welcome all industry partners,” says Barton.

In fact, those potential partnerships are not confined to commodity groups. The exhibit can act as a colorful catalyst for additional activities. Barton says there are many opportunities to collaborate on ensuring a strong agriculture presence in county fairs.

“For instance, we’ve seen an explosion of popularity with farmers’ markets in Oregon,” she says. “But the people who go to a farmers’ market aren’t necessarily the same people who go to a county fair. So there’s a great opportunity for both to work together and cross promote in order to reach out to new people in both venues. We want this exhibit to be a building block. We want to connect with more partners in the future to make this experience even more interactive.”

ODA will document this year’s experiences involving the exhibit, share it with all county fair managers this fall and winter, and encourage them to build connections with community partners for next year.

It’s the word “connections” that is at the heart of “Telling the Oregon Agriculture Story.” Even people who live in counties where farming or ranching is a key activity sometimes are unaware of agriculture’s economic contribution. Some are surprised to learn what crops are actually produced in their county.

“I call county fairs a pop-up village,” says Barton. “You have all kinds of demographics, all kinds of people, and all kinds of activities at a fair. To be able to relate a fact about the number of farms and ranches in the county, the number of jobs in agriculture, the dollars generated by that activity– those are important facts to share to a wide audience of fair goers.”

If all goes well this year, Oregonians can expect this traveling exhibit to reach more county fairs next year and beyond. It might just do more than inform. Hopefully it can connect more people to agriculture in a fun, interesting, and creative way that enhances the entire fair experience. If Oregonians come away with a greater awareness and appreciation for one of the state’s leading industries, the exhibit will be a huge success.

For more information, contact Laura Barton at (503) 872-6600.

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