Visitors check out booths at the Western Illinois University Ag Mech Club’s Farm Expo. The largest student-run farm show in the country recently drew large crowds. The show featured a wide array of exhibits, from farm technology, farm and home fix-up and landscaping to farm equipment, as well as a craft show and toy show.
Visitors check out booths at the Western Illinois University Ag Mech Club’s Farm Expo. The largest student-run farm show in the country recently drew large crowds. The show featured a wide array of exhibits, from farm technology, farm and home fix-up and landscaping to farm equipment, as well as a craft show and toy show.

MACOMB, Ill. — If there’s one thing that Halie Brinkman, a senior agriculture science major at Western Illinois University, would tell the public to come out to next year’s WIU Ag Mech Club Farm Expo, what would it be?

“That it’s awesome, and they really need to come back every year,” she said.

Brinkman still was on the job in her role as the vice president of advertising and a member of the executive committee of the WIU Ag Mech Club.

Her job was to line up and purchase advertising, radio and print, for the 2013 WIU Farm Expo, as well as line up and schedule interviews.

That job meant some new experiences for Brinkman, who is a graduate of Central High School in Camp Point.

She was active in FFA in high school and participated in landscaping the high school grounds. The experience with that FFA project has helped Brinkman line up an internship with a Chicago-area landscaping company.

But the venture into advertising was something new.

“I didn’t really work with any of that before this, so getting in contact with everybody was new to me,” Brinkman said. “It worked out really well, and everybody was nice and really helpful, so it was a good experience for me.”

Brinkman’s job wasn’t over, however, when the show opened in Western Hall at 9 a.m. Feb. 9.

“I am still actively involved. I help out with the information booth here, taking comments and directing people where they want to go,” she said.

The WIU Ag Mech Club Farm Expo is a group effort from start to finish — and beyond.

“We have a 14-member executive officer committee, every one of them has a specific job that relates to the show, and that’s how we structure our club,” said Bart Gill, Ag Mech Club adviser and assistant professor of ag mechanics at WIU.

Gill said the group works as a team, but each individual has a separate task. “Pretty much there’s something for everybody. They all have specific jobs to do. Why things run so well for us and why the show is always so successful is because the students want to do these jobs,” he said.

“They take it on knowing it’s a big task. They take ownership for it, and they really, really take ownership in this show. If something doesn’t go right, they’re disappointed.”

Gill said the show ended up with a waiting list of vendors and that the event encapsulated a wide array of products and services for the farm and home.

“We have a very diverse group of exhibitors, ranging from laser art for the farm and home to insulation, nursery and landscape to the production side of farming with the seed companies, fertilizer companies, equipment companies and those types of things,” he said.

Gill added that the waiting list and the variety of vendors proves that the word is getting out about the WIU Farm Expo. “We’ve been getting a lot of contacts and have been getting contacted about what our show is all about from new people who have interest in coming and exhibiting because they’ve heard really good things about it and how much interest we get, how many visitors we get at the show and the traffic we get coming through,” he said.

This year, the members of the Ag Mech Club were faced with a hurdle to their Thursday night setup. The WIU Leathernecks men’s basketball team hosted the University of Nebraska at Omaha. WIU won, 68-50, but the game meant that setup was delayed a bit.

“On Thursday night, we had the basketball game here, so it was a very late night, but at 9 p.m., when that game was over, we had about 40 to 50 students waiting here to help get everything set up. The show of support and that pride in our School of Agriculture is just amazing,” Gill said.

Help comes not only from the club members, but from students throughout the School of Agriculture. “We’re very fortunate that we have great students within the school of ag. The faculty and staff here are very supportive of the show, and so some of them will have the option to offer extra credit to their students for coming down and assisting us. They’re willing to do that even though they have no part in the show as faculty, but they’re willing to do that just to provide us with some extra help,” Gill said.

He said that some 70 percent of the students in the School of Agriculture come from a production agriculture background, and that number is about the same for those in the Ag Mech Club. Many also come to WIU from FFA programs, and it all contributes to why the show runs smoothly. “They understand the multiple aspects of the agriculture industry, and so, having them involved in this show, they understand the needs of our exhibitors, they understand what the exhibitors are here doing and what they represent,” he said.

“Their work ethic, as well as their knowledge base of what this show is all about, is really strong and lends to their strong ideas of how to make the show better.”

One of those students is Daniel Mitchell, vice president of expo operations. Mitchell is a junior from Colchester and is majoring in ag business. He credited teamwork with making the show run smoothly.

“Everybody has a job, each of us has an extensive list of things to do. Everybody pulls their own weight and gets their own job done. If we delegate things out, it gets done that much quicker and easier,” he said.

Mitchell graduated from West Prairie High School in Sciota and was a member of the FFA there. “I think being in FFA prepared me for college in general, let alone doing something like this. In FFA I learned public speaking skills and organization, on a smaller scale, of events going on and then stepping it up into something like this,” he said. “If it was for FFA, I don’t think I could do something like this today.”

Mitchell, dressed in a suit, purple dress shirt — to represent for WIU — and tie, was making the rounds of the show, talking to exhibitors and guests alike, running messages from the FFA members of three different clubs who were greeting guests at the front door and signing them up for door prizes, to Brinkman and other club members who were manning the information table.

“I walk around and visit with some vendors, make sure everything is going well, talk to people and get some ideas about what they want to see at the show in the next few years,” said Mitchell, whose job started months before the actual show. “It’s a great job to have.”

FFA was a strong presence at the show, with the Heyworth High School FFA members having a booth where they were selling raffle tickets for a restored tractor to the three chapters, Monmouth-Roseville, Bushnell-Prairie City and Rushville-Industry, who took turns at the door prize table, signing up visitors for a wide selection of door prizes.

The show would end on Sunday night, as students again gathered to help dismantle the show.

“We try to be done before 8 p.m. We spend three to four hours of cleanup time, which is pretty impressive to get more than 200 vendors out, all the tables and chairs down and stacked up and everything cleaned up. It’s very impressive to see them do that. The students show up, we say this is what needs to be done and they get to it,” Gill said.

He said that teamwork extends throughout the WIU School of Agriculture. “A lot of that stems from the camaraderie that’s in the School of Agriculture. Even though the students may not be members of the Ag Mech Club, their friends are, so they are recruiting their friends, who are willing to come down and lend a hand and spend a couple hours helping us clean up. We really appreciate the extra assistance we get,” he said.

Students have a few days and then they are off to another show — the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky. “That’s one of the ways we give back to our students for taking as much time and effort as they do for a show like this. The Ag Mech Club provides them with a trip to Louisville for the National Farm Machinery Show,” Gill said.

But between the wrap-up of yet one more highly successful WIU Ag Mech Club Farm Expo and a trip to see the National Farm Machinery Show was at least one obstacle.

“Class on Monday will be a little rough for some of us,” Gill said.