Farmers Give Smithsonian Exhibit a Personal Touch

Whether talking about the use of modern technology and crop production or tracing the history of farming, farmers are the best sources of information. They’re also the ones with the best stories about how agriculture helped shape America. 

The American Enterprise exhibit, which opened July 1 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, features interactive displays and artifacts from the country’s agricultural past. Artifacts donated by farmers, including photos and videos, support the exhibition.

It also boasts a collection of stories from farmers like Iowa farmer Roy Bardole, pictured above; and Sharon Covert, from Illinois. Bardole’s “Things Dad Talked About” and Covert’s “Walking the Beans” are among the more than 40 stories submitted by farmers.

Peter Liebhold, a Smithsonian curator overseeing the agriculture portion of the exhibit, says the American Enterprise exhibit intends to capture the dramatic changes that have taken place in agriculture. Because most visitors can’t get to a farm, he’s hoping to bring the farm to them though interactivity, artifacts and firsthand depictions of life on the farm.

“It is my privilege and honor to collect objects and stories from American farmers, ranchers and those involved in myriad agriculture industries,” he says.

Farmers shared their stories so exhibit visitors can get a flavor of what farming was like from those who lived it.

“As farmers, we are most effective at telling ag’s story – the story of innovation, continuous improvement, technology adoption and sustainability – when we make them personal,” says Nancy Kavazanjian, checkoff farmer-leader from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

“One of our biggest challenges is communicating this rapid change in agriculture,” adds Phil Bradshaw, past chairman of the United Soybean Board and a farmer from Griggsville, Illinois. “We have to start telling our story. We have to say why we do what we do.”