PRINCETON, Ill. — In a few weeks, weather permitting, the big green and gold John Deere 8400R tractor and the 1775NT 24-row planter will be moving across fields in northern Illinois, planting corn and soybean seeds.
But for one day, the massive farm implements were helping to plant the seeds of learning, as they were being used as teaching tools.
“Who has a computer at home? How about a smartphone? Do either of those things have a touchscreen?” asked presenter Chris Anderson of Prairie State Tractor in Princeton.
Students raised their hands. This was something they knew.
Anderson went on to talk about how the equipment and the planting process itself is controlled from computer monitors and touchscreens.
Students then got a look inside an operating planter — brought down to their view via a Kinze tabletop planter demonstrator, as Matt Miller of Prairie State Tractor showed them how vacuum pressure moves seeds from the hopper on top to the furrow below.
This is the 27th year for the annual Bureau County Farm Bureau Ag Fair. The event was not held in 2020 or in 2021, but returned last year.
This year, over 300 fourth-grade students from 20 classrooms throughout Bureau County attended the daylong event.
“Every school in the county is invited and every school attends, but there are some schools that attend every other year. We have one home school unit that attends and every year we invite a different home school unit,” said Jill Frueh, Bureau County Farm Bureau manager.
The fair is a series of 14 learning stations, ranging from soil conservation to farm safety, seed technology, swine, poultry, dairy and livestock and others. Students spend nine minutes at each station.
“We have three or four presenters who have been here almost the entire time we’ve been having the Ag Fair. Presenters sometimes worry that they can’t fill up nine minutes, but that time goes by fast and they always fill it,” Frueh said.
Some of the young people who work as presenters have been through the Ag Fair as students. Two of those are Frueh’s daughter, Payton, and son, Parker. Payton, who presents the unit on horses, started presenting in third grade.
“It was just one of those things that was a work activity for me and she knew I was coming and bringing animals, so she wanted to come. I told her if she came with me she would have to present and she had to present loudly. So, she did and she’s been doing it ever since,” Frueh said.
She and her husband, Jared, own Frueh Yorkshires, a showpig breeding and showing operation.
Their son, Parker, who has been presenting for two years, presented the unit on swine, with one of his showpigs for students to see and pet.
Jill said being a presenter and having to talk about horses has helped Payton build confidence.
Payton is a member of the Youth Equestrian Development Association and shows her horses, Lily and Cooper, in Western pleasure and hunt seat classes at YEDA horse shows.
“I think being a presenter here has grown her confidence. She knew all about horses and she could answer questions and the questions from other kids. It’s helped with her public speaking abilities and it’s just been a big confidence builder,” the mom said.
Frueh said planning for the Ag Fair starts in October, when schools are notified of the date of the fair. The process continues to round up volunteers, livestock and finalize all the details.
As they leave, each student receives a gift bag with items donated from each of the presenters’ organizations. Teachers fill out evaluations each year and they and their students also create and send thank-you cards to the presenters.
Frueh said the 75 volunteers make the event run.
“It hasn’t been hard to find volunteers because everyone knows about the Ag Fair or remembers coming through it or their kids coming through it. Those volunteers, 75 of them, are out here presenting, setting up, cleaning up, and we just could not do this without them,” Frueh said.
“The fairgrounds donates the use of the buildings and we thank them for that. It’s just a great event.”