Growing Connections

A NEW GRAIN FARMERS OF ONTARIO EXHIBIT

GRAIN FARMERS OF ONTARIO now has a new way to connect urban audiences with farmers. Growing Connections, a 53 foot trailer exhibit, was successfully launched in November at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. The exhibit is designed to highlight grain from farm to fork to fuel.

Growing Connections was developed to replace the popular Grains in Your Life exhibit. The Grains in Your Life exhibit was displayed from 2010-2013 at several large events, including the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the International Home Show, the Green Living Show, and the International Plowing Match. “The exhibit was transformed each year to feature various grain bio-products used in your daily life,” explains Meghan Burke, Manager, Communications for Grain Farmers of Ontario. “Components of the exhibit included a kitchen, office, living room, garage, and crop display. The exhibit was a crowd favourite during its three-year tour and we are evaluating a permanent home for it in Toronto, Ontario.”

The decision to construct the Growing Connections exhibit within a trailer was made to address the primary issue with Grains in Your Life – mobility. “This new exhibit can travel to locations the previous exhibit could not, it is very durable, and can be used at indoor or outdoor events,” says Burke. “It is fully accessible, equipped with a wheelchair lift, and has awnings for each stage that can be opened to shield sun or light rain. The exhibit takes less than an hour to set-up and close with four (trained) people and all components are contained within it.”

CROP STAGE
The trailer features three fold-out stages and one enclosed theatre room. In total, it provides 1,200 square feet of exhibit space. Visitors enter through the crop stage, which includes life-size replicas of corn, soybean, and wheat fields in different stages of growth. Robots from Clearpath Robotics, which work autonomously on the farm, can also be seen in this introduction to grain farming.

“The crop replicas are a great educational tool,” says Mackenna Roth, Communications Coordinator – Public Relations. “A lot of people were surprised to learn what they thought was a dead plant was actually the crop in its end stage before harvest.”

VIDEOGAME STAGE
From the crop stage, guests can visit three other stations in the Growing Connections exhibit: the video game stage, kitchen stage, and theatre. On the videogame stage visitors can play the Seed Survivor computer games which teach kids about the nutrients needed to grow a healthy crop. They can also explore a map of Ontario.

The map, a major digital component of the exhibit, is an exciting interactive display experience developed by Quarry in conjunction with the FELT Lab in St. Jacobs. The giant touch screen display measures 81″ wide by 41″ high. On the screen, the map identifies the 15 Grain Farmers of Ontario’s districts and allows children and adults to explore corn, soybean, and wheat farms across the province. When a district is activated by touch, three options appear: a photo of a farmer or farm equipment, a video of a farmer explaining an aspect of his or her farm or a video of equipment in the field planting or harvesting a grain crop, and a written description about the grain industry in that area.

“Visitors really enjoyed investigating the district they live in or a family member lives in to see who and what was featured,” says Burke. “Many people were surprised to recognize a farm name or see a familiar face – it really helped people reflect on their knowledge and involvement with farming. And for those who don’t have farm connections, the opportunity to hear from a real farmer and see how their machinery works was an eye-opening experience.” 

KITCHEN STAGE
The development of the kitchen stage provided a unique opportunity for Grain Farmers of Ontario to partner with Chef Johnathan Goodyear, a finalist on Top Chef Canada, and Executive Chef at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.  As Grain Farmers of Ontario’s Resident Chef, Goodyear created recipes highlighting corn, soybeans, and wheat. During The Royal, he cooked some of the recipes on the stage for an intrigued audience.

“Chef Johnathan invited visitors to come right up on stage and cook with him, creating an intimate learning experience. People left the demonstrations inspired to use grains differently in their own recipes” says Roth. 

On the kitchen stage, visitors can also use a wheat grinder to make white or whole-wheat flour, learn about novel new uses for grain with the Product of the Day feature, and see a wide range of food and non-food items made from corn, soybeans, or wheat.

THEATRE
The fully enclosed theatre with wheat straw bale seating is a great place to sit, relax, and learn about Ontario agriculture. Truly one-of-a-kind, this room has full walls and theatre-style curtains to create the ideal atmosphere for viewing videos.

Visitors can watch videos on controversial farming issues, see farm equipment at work, and hear from real farmers about their daily lives. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a supporter of the Agriculture More than Ever campaign and featured several of these videos at The Royal – expanding the story of farming beyond grains and helping visitors draw connections between the other aspects of farming they were able to see at the fair.

LASTING CONNECTIONS
During The Royal, thousands of people were able to experience Growing Connections. This included hundreds of urban elementary students who were on school day trips. “It was great to see the connections the children were making between the crop display and the grain products featured in the showcase,” says Roth. “We answered a lot of good questions ranging from how technology is used on the farm to what daily life is like on a farm.”

Another very important visitor to the exhibit was Premier Kathleen Wynne who took the time to explore Growing Connections and congratulated Grain Farmers of Ontario on this successful initiative.  

“This investment really represents the Grain Farmers of Ontario brand and demonstrates our commitment to technology, education, and connecting with the public,” says Burke. “Looking to the future, the exhibit can be completely refreshed by changing components and artwork. The structure is expected to impress for many years to come.” •

About Rachel Telford 84 Articles
Communications Coordinator, Publications, Grain Farmers of Ontario; Managing Editor, Ontario Grain Farmer Magazine