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Farmers Became Educators at this Year's State Fair

September 18, 2007 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

More than 1.6 million people visited this year's Great Minnesota Get-Together, where farmers made a concerted effort to unite Minnesotans -- rural, urban and suburban.

"This used to be Machinery Hill for farmers. Now, it's 'Suburban Hill,' a showcase for equipment you might use to take care of your Lake Minnetonka estate," said Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

That kind of thinking shows why the Farmers Union and other farm organizations have changed the focus of their State Fair exhibits to address the ever-increasing number of urban fairgoers.

"This is a great opportunity to remind people where food comes from and help reconnect the link between farmers and consumers," Peterson said.

That's one of the strengths of the Minnesota State Fair. For 12 days, Minnesotans get to mingle and look across the economic, sociological and political boundaries that divide rural, urban and suburban areas.

One of the most popular attractions was the CHS Miracle of Birth barn, operated by an Inver Grove Heights cooperative with agricultural education and professional groups.

Community organizations had booths and exhibits that explained their products, from horticulture and landscape architecture to diverse crops and livestock.

The Farmers Union roasted and sold about 600 pounds of coffee at its booth and patio near the main gates. Farm cooperatives from Mexico and Central America joined in this collaborative effort to promote fair trade policies.

The Farm Bureau exhibit focused on how food is grown, the economic importance of agriculture and even curious information about how rabbits keep cool without perspiring.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources continued to maintain one of the fair's most impressive exhibits, showing the abundant wildlife that shares Minnesota with more than 5 million people.

All of these efforts help counteract the compartmentalizing of Minnesota into geographical sectors that often promote division within the state, not unity.

For a dozen days each year, however, Minnesotans can pause, shake hands and perhaps conclude that city, suburban and country cousins all deserve their fair shares of road and bridge investments, public education funding, help in starting businesses and modern health care services and facilities.

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