This story also appears in our University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Agricultural Research Center Magazine. Stop by your local Research Center to pick up a copy! You can view the magazine online by clicking here: Road to Discovery.
The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ South Farm Research Center conducts a variety of research – from swine to turf – on its nearly 1,500 acres of land.
More than 10 years ago, then-CAFNR Vice Chancellor and Dean Tom Payne put together a team to find the best way to showcase the assortment of projects taking place at South Farm. Not only did the group want to highlight the research, they wanted to make the showcase interactive, allowing the community to really see what was happening at the South Farm Research Center. The goal was to create an atmosphere where people of any age could come in and have fun while learning more about the agricultural world.
Enter the South Farm Showcase.
The first South Farm Showcase was held in September 2006, with less than 1,000 people in attendance. The event celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2016 and has grown throughout its run, with thousands of individuals flocking to the annual event.
“The whole idea was to invite the community into this ‘mysterious land’ that was the South Farm Research Center,” said John Poehlmann, former South Farm superintendent. “A lot of people drove right by South Farm and didn’t really know what was going on there. We wanted to invite them in and show them everything we were doing.”
‘A Germ of an Idea’
Poehlmann worked with Payne and Marc Linit, former senior associate director, MU Agricultural Experiment Station, among several others, to develop the Showcase.
The idea for the South Farm Showcase came from a similar event at Ohio State University. Payne served as the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and
Environmental Sciences associate vice president for agricultural administration, associate dean for research, and director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center from 1993-98. A group went to OSU to see how that event ran before launching the South Farm Showcase.
“The success of the South Farm Showcase is owed to the dedication of many volunteers and the visionary leadership of South Farm and CAFNR staff, faculty and students,” Payne said. “Under the inspiration of Donna Thomas, Beverly Spencer and John Poehlmann, a germ of an idea from a visit to Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center Wooster Campus to discuss their three-day community event resulted in our CAFNR’s South Farm Showcase. It is fantastic and now part of the fabric and culture of CAFNR and our community.”
Payne was instrumental in the development of the event. His vision has allowed the event to grow as well, with larger crowds and new activities.
“I am really thrilled at what CAFNR’s South Farm Showcase has become – a fun-filled family Saturday enjoying and learning about the wonders of agriculture and our environment,” Payne said. “Originally attracting a few hundred visitors to see examples of things we do at South Farm, the event now attracts several thousand, where kids and moms and dads learn about agriculture in general. The most heartening development is the number of children and parents who join in the fun and education. Agriculture is so critical and introducing kids early is important.”
Poehlmann retired in 2015, with Tim Reinbott, former Bradford Research Center superintendent, taking over the event’s reins in 2016. Reinbott had been a big part of past Showcases, and was excited to lead the charge for the event.
“To have an opportunity to help educate so many about what South Farm and CAFNR is all about is extremely exciting,” Reinbott said.
There is always something new and different being done at the South Farm Research Center. Along with research on swine, beef cattle, and horses, turf grasses and poultry are studied. South Farm is also home to the Soil Health Assessment Center, and the MU Forestry Club holds Conclave practices on the South Farm grounds.
The South Farm Showcase has undergone changes throughout its time; however, there have been several mainstays that continue to be part of the event. Tiger Garden has offered an area for kids to paint pumpkins or have their faces painted. The Forestry Club has showcased wood cutting and the entomology stops have always drawn a large crowd. Petting zoos and corn mazes have also been staple activities. Each of the six CAFNR divisions – animal sciences, biochemistry, applied social sciences, food systems and bioengineering, plant sciences, and natural resources – are represented.
“Agriculture is not static and neither is what you will see at South Farm Showcase,” Reinbott said. “It is amazing how far we have come in the last 10 years, and even if you have come to the past several Showcases, I guarantee you will see something that you have never seen here before.”
The South Farm Showcase attendance hovered around 1,000 to 2,000 people for the first four years, from 2006-2010. The event was not held in 2009. More than 3,000 people attended the 2011 event and that number jumped to 8,000 in 2012. South Farm went over the 10,000-attendee mark in 2014 and had nearly 16,000 in 2015. Attendance numbers have continued to hover around the 8,000 to 12,000 mark during the past few years.
“I think a big part of that jump was due to social media,” Poehlmann said. “People were really sharing how much fun Showcase was and how great of an experience it was for kids. We also got a lot of great press coverage. There were a lot of factors into that jump.”
Reinbott has worked hard to add more booths and activities at Showcase. Two of the biggest draws have been the Taste of Mizzou tent and a Passport for children. That tent features a variety of tasty treats created through several CAFNR programs. There is maple syrup from the Baskett Research Center, wine from the MU Grape and Wine Institute, and mealworms from entomology.
The Passport lays out 10 to 12 activities that children can complete to earn a free pumpkin. It allows the children to visit several different vendors.
“These two additions have been extremely popular so far,” Reinbott said. “We’re always looking for ways to get individuals to get more involved, and both of these additions have helped do that.
“At the end of the day, we want everyone who comes to the South Farm Showcase to learn more about what CAFNR does and leave with a smile on their face.”