“Field of Dreams” gets to the foundation of food

The “Field of Dreams” has been part of the N.C. State Fair since 2004, but when I visited this year, I found a few folks who somehow had never seen it. I was pretty sad to hear that because the exhibit gets at the heart of what the fair is about. While the fair used to be about showcasing and sharing agricultural practices and equipment amongst farmers (or at least people familiar with farming), it’s now more about a few agricultural folks sharing with the general non-farming public.

That’s exactly what “Field of Dreams” does. In a plot of land just outside Dorton Arena, Rex Sasser plants and grows dozens of varieties of plants. Children and their families walk down a winding path to see fruits, vegetables and other crops growing. It’s an opportunity to see the food you eat in its original form – growing right out of the ground. There is also some cotton, which of course isn’t eaten but is instead turned into fabric.

“We try to grow as many crops as we can that are important to North Carolina – both vegetables and row crops,” explained Carl Tart who organizes and operates the exhibit each year.

I really enjoyed meeting Carl. He has a passion for educating young people about agriculture – at least in a small way. He’s been a major part of the “Field of Dreams” since it began.

“We started out wanting to show kids how things look growing, and ended up teaching a lot of parents too,” Carl said. “It’s important that we educate them. Our students now are so far removed from the farm. They have no earthly idea where their food comes from.”

I love the idea, and I think it really does help some children and their parents learn how their food (and cotton) grows. I also think, unfortunately, there are some people that kind of miss the learning experience right in front of them. I felt like lots of parents and kids I chatted with either didn’t “get it” or they already had a familiarity with growing food. To my dismay I realized it may take more than an exhibit at the fair for it to really click with those people who aren’t already familiar with gardening or farming.

So parents, here’s your challenge:  If you take your children through the “Field of Dreams,” work to really engage them. Don’t just walk through and glance at what’s growing. Take a few moments to point out what you see and what your children can learn. Show them the peas on the bush. Tell them that the sweet potatoes and turnip roots (the white or purple parts) are growing underground. Be sure they see the watermelons on the vine or the soybeans on the bush. Explain how the lettuce is cut and broken into pieces for salads.

If you are also learning too, ask questions. There’s no shame in not knowing that peanuts also grow underground. I met a woman who didn’t realize that after walking through the exhibit. Again, how would she know if she’d never seen it?

Also, if your children are old enough, they’ll be encouraged to “harvest” a few vegetables, put them in a basket and “sell” them at a market where they get some play money. They can then take that money to buy a goody bag. The idea is to show how farmers earn a living and are part of the economy.

Even if some people don’t quite seem to absorb everything from the exhibit, I did also chat with some folks who definitely learned some things, such as how okra grows. There were also plenty of parents hoping to see children learn more about how things grow.

“It’s nice to actually see what you’re eating in the fields,” said Shawn Jones from Chapel Hill. “Not a lot of people see this.”

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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