Brick by brick
DES MOINES – It’s hard to resist the lure of LEGOs. Those vibrant, shiny, colorful plastic bricks practically scream out for someone to create something with them-like the amazing ag-inspired sculptures at the Iowa Food and Family Project’s exhibit at the 2013 Iowa State Fair.
“William just loves this and doesn’t want to leave,” said Lindsay McCormick, of Webster City, whose 6-year-old son made his own LEGO creations at one of the play stations located throughout the IFFP’s area in the Varied Industries Building.
The McCormicks weren’t alone. Thousands of children and adults visited the “Get Connected to Farming!” exhibit to play ag trivia games and view the large, Iowa-themed LEGO sculpture showcasing the positive contributions of farming to Iowa, the nation and the world.
Visitors also had the chance to win $500 in groceries by coming closest to correctly guessing the number of LEGO bricks used to create the centerpiece exhibit.
“It was amazing to see how the IFFP’s exhibit brought families together,” said Duane Murley, of Rockwell City. “Often there were three generations of family members at the LEGO work stations.
“Everybody is a kid at heart when it comes to LEGOS-even dad, mom, grandma and grandpa.”
The centerpiece of this year’s exhibit featured the work of Sean Kenney, a LEGO certified professional who uses LEGO pieces to create stunning sculptures.
Kenney’s masterpiece, featured a colorful representation of Iowa’s landscape, including rolling fields interspersed with farms and towns surrounded by a variety of food that’s grown, processed and sold in Iowa.
Spending time at the LEGO exhibit allowed visitors to learn more about Iowa agriculture and test their knowledge about food and farming.
“It’s a lot of fun to meet the people,” said Randy Souder, a Calhoun County farmer who volunteered at the ag trivia game, “and I’ve been impressed by the kids’ knowledge.”
Souder is one of 21 Iowa soybean farmers who serve as volunteer spokespeople on the Iowa Soybean Association’s Farm and Food Ambassador team.
The program empowers ISA members to share messages and issues that are important to their organization and farming.
Ambassadors share their message in many ways, including visiting with consumers at the Iowa State Fair and Iowa Games events, hosting farm tours, submitting letters to the editor and communicating with state legislators and industry leaders.
“I’m an ambassador, because I believe it’s important to tell agriculture’s story,” said Souder. “At the state fair, we’re literally building connections between rural and urban Iowans about farming and food.”
To build even more connections, the IFFP hosted celebrity LEGO brick building contests daily at 2 p.m. at the state fair.
Celebrities included Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Herky the Hawkeye, the 2013 Iowa State Fair Queen and Duane Murley, who broadcasts farm news on KWMT in Fort Dodge.
“Events like this are important, because they share agriculture’s message through fun, interactive activities that appeal to all ages,” Murley said. “As people become farther removed from the farm, it’s important to educate consumers where their food comes from.
“The IFFP helps put a face on farming and brings producers and consumers together.”
At the IFFP exhibit, fairgoers were also invited to contribute to Iowa Food Bank Association. All who made a donation were entered to win five cases of fresh pork, courtesy of Iowa Select Farms.
One case will be enjoyed by the winner and his or her family, while the remaining four will be donated to the food bank in the winner’s hometown.
The IFFP, which is funded in part by the soybean checkoff, also teamed up with the Iowa State Fair, GROWMARK and Meals from the Heartland to package more than 250,000 soy-based servings of meals to help alleviate hunger.
More than 1,300 volunteers assisted with this unique event, which reflects the generous spirit of Iowa farmers who work hard to do the right thing, Murley said.
“Too often,” he said, “agriculture is subject to criticism that’s not based on hard scientific facts.
“There are no better stewards of the land than farmers. They live on the land, they drink the water, they consume their own products and they care about helping people.”
Sponsors of IFFP’s “Get Connected to Farming” exhibit included the ISA, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Farm Credit Services of America, Midwest Dairy Association, Syngenta, Iowa Food Bank Association, Iowa Grocery Industry Association and United Soybean Board.
“We’re a proud partner of the IFFP and are excited to support the group’s efforts at the 2013 Iowa State Fair,” said David Flakne, Syngenta’s senior manager for state affairs. “Sharing this powerful story at a unique venue like the Iowa State Fair is an incredible opportunity.”
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