LODI — Rain delays were not enough to stop Lodi Agricultral Fair Secretary Lori Ripp from realizing plans she made to better highlight where food comes from and the variety of produce grown in Wisconsin.
“Everybody kind of stepped up and helped me solve it,” Ripp said, gesturing at the cement that almost wasn’t laid in recent days as one of the hurdles in setting up the new ag education center on the fairgrounds.
Visitors can check out the new attraction during the fair that starts Thursday and continues through Sunday.
The foundation was filled in as the base of a grain bin spanning 24 feet in diameter. Ripp’s brother, Dan Karls, a farmer from rural Waunakee, donated the roof and three rings of a 1980s grain bin.
“I had this vision of doing something very interactive to teach ag education,” Ripp said. “I think everybody goes to the grocery store and they understand we have food, but we have so much variety right here in the state.”
“We’re Wisconsin … and We Grow It” is the theme Ripp brainstormed while considering how to make her plans for an ag center a reality. The education element is not only meant for children. Ripp said she hopes to enlighten adults, and even farmers, with new facts about Wisconsin agriculture.
The help of friends, local art students and fellow volunteers brought Ripp the ag education center she had dreamed up.
Throughout the newly repainted grain bin, display boards built by Ripp’s brothers show where the types of meat cuts come from on an outline of a cow and pig. Trivia questions are framed with fake corn stalks, donated by a local school theater group, standing at 6 feet along the wall of the grain bin. A person-sized corn cob still in its husk stands next to them, constructed from the ends of half-gallon milk containers recently painted yellow by volunteers. The Pepsi distributor for the fair delivered a nonoperational cooler to stage a variety of dairy containers holding trivia questions about the products.
There are other displays oriented toward interactive learning, which Ripp said she believes may be the best method for teaching visitors about agriculture.
“We target something for every age,” Ripp said. “We really, truly brought it back to the basics.”
One of the many volunteers who has helped with the center is Ripp’s assistant, Sarah Shimshak.
Shimshak, a former intern who continues to return to the fair, said she sees the merit to the ag education center. She attended the ag fair while growing up in Lodi and said she only realized how much volunteerism goes into the fair when she worked as an intern in 2016 while attending the University of Wisconsin-Platteville for agriculture science.
“I think this is really cool because as we keep evolving over time and the more urban the world will be, a lot of people are removed from agriculture,” Shimshak said. “A lot of people have little knowledge of where food comes from, even people here in Lodi. They can come in here and feel engaged.”
Shimshak knows more about produce than she did before work on the education center began, noting she was surprised to find blueberries are produced in Wisconsin.
According to the 2018 annual vegetables summary report released by the USDA, Wisconsin harvested 66,000 acres of snap beans, the largest of any state and more than double than that of Florida, the second-highest producer. The report also notes that the state produces carrots, cabbage, sweet corn, cucumbers, green peas and pumpkins.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service report of fruit grown in the country notes that Wisconsin produces apples, cherries, and leads the country in production of the state fruit, cranberries. Wisconsin produced more than 188,000 barrels of fresh cranberries in 2018.
“People don’t realize what is grown in Wisconsin,” Ripp said. “We grow so much here that we take things for granted. No matter where you buy it, we support the local economy. We need to support each other.”