Chopped Challenge, Illinois State Fair

The Illinois State Fair in Springfield has turned to TV and tour guides to help fairgoers better understand origins of foods, farm production and other aspects of agriculture.

In 2015, the state fair featured attractions and competitions that not only entertained fairgoers, but also provided quite the learning experience. Through the Illinois Department of Agriculture and fair sponsors, attendees watched Food Network-inspired competitions and took detailed tours of the fair’s many agriculture exhibits.

“This was an opportunity to tell over half a million people in a week’s time where their food comes from,” says Karl Barnhart, chief marketing officer for BRANDT, the presenting sponsor of Ag Tours. “We just love showing some of the ag things that happen at the fair. There are so many ag exhibits all around the fair. You need a guided tour to really see them all.”

BRANDT, a leading agriculture company in Springfield and a regular sponsor of the Illinois State Fair, met with officials from the state’s Department of Agriculture to discuss how the fair’s ag component could better connect with fairgoers. They decided a guided tour was the ideal way to achieve that goal.

“We thought that was perfect for what we want to do,” Barnhart says. “As an ag leader, we have been focusing on helping consumers understand where food comes from.”

Tours took fairgoers on guided tram rides throughout the fairgrounds, where they learned about the Illinois agriculture industry, including beef, dairy, horse racing, goats, rabbits, corn, soybeans and composting. Tour presenters were interns from various state commodity groups and other youth ag leaders.

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“We’re confident they had great tour guides, terrific talking points to take people through, and that we had enough people going through the tour that it appeared to be a success at the fair,” Barnhart says.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Chopped Challenge gave attendees a fun, entertaining way to learn about origin of foods. Using the format from the Food Network show Chopped, the daily competition pitted teams from various organizations against one another. Each side was tasked with creating a dish from an assortment of ingredients.

“All the ingredients were from Illinois,” says Judy Bingman, a member of the Illinois 4-H team that was up against players from the state’s FFA. She works for Illinois 4-H as a media and communications specialist. “You had to whip up something in 30 minutes.”

The competitions helped promote local foods of Illinois – and also gave the various organizations a way to shine.

“It was our opportunity to stress healthy lifestyles, healthy menus and to have a little fun while we were doing it,” Bingman says.

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