Missouri State FairA new award-winning program at the Missouri State Fair takes livestock beyond the barns to find fairgoers.

Launched in 2015, the Let’s Talk Livestock program encourages Missouri 4-H and FFA members to move their cattle, pigs and chickens from their barns to tents and tabletops in high-traffic areas.

There, the youth form a mock agricultural classroom, talk about their livestock project and answer questions.

“When a lot of people come to the fair, they walk by the cattle barns but don’t go in,” says Kari Mergen, the fair’s marketing director. “We’re trying to bring the education outside of the barn for people and utilize the talent of the youth and families we have here on grounds already to provide the education for us.”

The program’s unique educational approach earned Let’s Talk Livestock one of the top honors in 2015 from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE). The program won the Judges’ Creative Award, named best overall in a field of 60 category winners of all fair sizes. The program received accolades for its adaptability to any fair, says Marla Calico, president and CEO of IAFE.

“It’s a great way to tell the agriculture story in a way that is up close and personal with fairgoers,” Calico says. “That is very important today in the world of fairs, because agricultural fairs are really the last frontiers of being able to connect the consumer directly with food and fiber.”

Keeping with tradition since 1901, the Missouri State Fair continues to showcase agriculture. Now more than ever, the fair realizes its obligation to provide educational ag experiences, as each generation grows more removed from the farm, Mergen says.

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In 2015, the program included 13 presentations on beef, swine, sheep, goats, poultry and rabbits. Mergen expects more public exhibits to come to the program, which is sponsored by Tractor Supply Co.

New in 2016, Barnyard Story Time is as a kid-friendly experience and extension of Let’s Talk Livestock. Missouri 4-H and FFA members take their animals to the Kids Stage and read a picture book about that animal to fair-going youth.

“Bringing agriculture up close is what we’re trying to do at the fair,” Mergen says. “Let’s Talk Livestock and Barnyard Story Time are great examples of that.”

Calico adds, “To have that one- on-one interaction with someone who is raising chickens, pigs or lambs and find out what they do and why they do it puts agriculture on a personal level.”

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