Courtesy of Ella Bowman

Courtesy of Ella Bowman

All across Ohio, youth are flexing their artistic talents to show why they think agriculture is cool. Designed to connect young people with agriculture, “Ohio Agriculture is Cool!” is a contest sponsored by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), Ohio Farm Bureau, the Ohio State Fair and various agricultural commodity groups across the state.

Since 2011, the contest has drawn a steady stream of participants. Governor John Kasich wanted young Ohioans to connect to the state’s biggest industry, says Lori Panda, senior program manager at ODA.

“He wanted to educate kids about Ohio agriculture, and more importantly, teach them that agriculture is more than farming and raising livestock,” Panda says. “There are a lot of other aspects to the industry, and there are several careers students can pursue in agriculture.”

Creative Expressions

Students in grades K-12 can participate in the Ag is Cool Creative Expression competition, in which they submit original works of art like photos, drawings and more that visually explain why they think agriculture is cool.

Entries are examined by a panel of judges including state officials as well as visual arts professionals. Winners are selected based on their depiction of 21st-century agriculture and the creativity and quality of their work, and they’re recognized during an awards ceremony at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. In addition, winners earn free admission to the fair, and their creations are displayed in the Office of the Governor for one year.

Ten students were recognized for their Creative Expressions submissions in 2016, including 8-year-old Madilyn Johnson from Licking County, and 11-year-old Ella Bowman from Fulton County. Madilyn entered a photo collage with images she captured on her grandparents’ farm, while Ella submitted a drawing depicting a horse, barn and field, plus an airplane pulling an “Ag is Cool” banner.

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“Madilyn took 300 photos, and we narrowed it down to 12 for the collage,” says Courtney Johnson, Madilyn’s mother. “It’s really cool because the photos truly show the farm through the lens of an 8-year-old.”

Fun at the Ohio State Fair

Ohio students who have completed the fourth grade and present their report cards at the gate can enter the Ohio State Fair for free with a chaperone, and after attending, they have the opportunity to win a $500 scholarship by writing an essay about what they learned. Students can pick up a “passport” at the ODA tent to begin their adventure, which includes interactive stations and displays.

For example, children can milk cows by hand, learn how to spin wool and see firsthand how farm animals are born in the fair’s birthing center.

“While only soon-to-be fifth-graders can submit essays, children of all ages can participate in our passport program at the state fair,” Panda says. “Offering the ‘Ag is Cool’ program is a way to get folks into the agricultural areas at the fair, and it’s been very successful so far.”