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Innovation in agriculture on display

Discovery Park of America’s latest exhibit focuses on the importance of modern farming
Story by Allison Farley Photos submitted by Discovery Park of America 3/17/2021

 

On Dec. 5, 2020, Discovery Park of America opened a new exhibit called “AgriCulture: Innovating for Our Survival” in the museum and heritage park’s Simmons Bank Ag Center. This exhibit showcases the role technological, scientific, and genetic innovation in agriculture plays in society and culture around the world.
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The latest exhibit at the the Discovery Park has been called a mind-blowing, myth-busting exhibit that will change the world. Its focus: modern agriculture.


It’s almost impossible to drive any distance in northwest Tennessee without seeing advertisements for Discovery Park of America. This 100-million-dollar facility in Union City is a state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot interactive museum and heritage park that features exhibits on famed Tennessean Col. David Crockett, an 1800’s log cabin, dinosaurs, vintage automobiles, Native American Studies, the military, and more. 


“Since Discovery Park first opened its doors on Nov. 1, 2013, our staff has strived to create a place where inspiration would happen every single day,” says the facility's President and CEO Scott Williams. “Our goal is to spark a desire in our visitors to learn, grow, and consider new ideas beyond wherever they are in life, regardless of age or education.”


To accomplish this goal, Discovery Park staff continues to develop new exhibits and learning centers throughout the venue. The most recent addition is the “AgriCulture: Innovating for Our Survival” exhibit in the museum's Simmons Bank Ag Center. The farming exhibit seeks to explore how important agriculture is to the general public and highlights the amazing innovations required to feed, fuel, and clothe a growing world population. 


“In 2018, the Tennessee Soybean Promotion Board (TSPB) brought to our attention the fact that we didn’t have a lot of agriculture in our museum,” says Williams. “We had a large vintage tractor collection, but that display focused on agriculture of the past.” 


The TSPB observation sparked a pivotal conversation between the Discovery Park staff and leaders in the agriculture industry across the state.  


“We began to hold focus groups made up of farmers in our community as well as business and industry professionals across the country to discuss modern agriculture,” says Jennifer Wildes, the park’s Director of Exhibits and Collections. “Out of those focus groups, the same message kept coming up: frustration with the misinformation the general public seemed to have about the industry. So, we became determined to grow our educational efforts until we ended up with the displays we have today.” 


Williams says the staff “did their homework” to develop an experience that would educate and inform even those with little understanding of modern agriculture, beginning with the park’s own staff. 


“We were probably some of the best people to work on this project because our team knew absolutely nothing about agriculture,” admits Williams. “We knew what farming looked like in our community and from the products at the grocery store, but we didn’t know anything else about it.”


As the employees did their research, they discovered more about the vastness and complexity of agriculture than they could have imagined,” Williams says. 


“We learned that the folks in the agriculture industry were really, in a lot of ways, talking to each other, but the general public that is not involved in the industry had no clue what was required to grow food, fuel, and fiber,” he points out. “Because of these findings, we chose to focus on the innovation that is a critical component of modern agriculture and to tell the story of the people working in the industry.” 


Wildes and her staff worked with the exhibit design company Solid Light out of Louisville, Ky., on the design, layout, and build of the exhibits throughout the center, including the “Faces of Farming” portion. This display features more than 250 portraits of men and women working in agriculture today and includes a gallery of social media posts that shows examples of real-time photos and videos farmers have shared online. One of the featured personalities in the gallery is Emalee Buttrey, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Animal Science at the University of Tennessee at Martin. 


“I think the ‘Faces of Farming’ exhibit will help non-ag visitors feel more comfortable reaching out to farmers, ranchers, and others in the ag community because they see real people, not stock photos grabbed off the internet,” says Buttrey. “Hopefully, this will stimulate some genuine conversations and help to cultivate relationships between producers and consumers.”  


Park visitors also have the opportunity to learn about the technology required to get agriculture products from the farm to the family, as well as the role of innovation in the field of international agriculture today. Hands-on elements in the center include a modern, state-of-the-art tractor from H&R Agri-Power and Case IH staged next to an early-20th-century model, so that guests can compare them. The exhibit also spotlights individuals from history who applied innovative farming practices along with those working to transform agriculture on farms and in laboratories today.


“The mission of our museum and heritage park is to stimulate thinking and motivate children and adults to see beyond,” said Williams. “We believe this exhibit will inspire visitors to see farming in a whole new way.”


In addition to “AgriCulture: Innovating for Our Survival,” the park has added other exhibits throughout the venue, including a beehive behind glass where visitors can watch the insects work, a pollinator garden, and traditional row crops like cotton, soybeans, and corn. 


Williams says the park will continue its agricultural focus this summer by hosting a temporary exhibit titled “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World” featuring photographs by philanthropist and farmer Howard G. Buffett. Traveling to more than 137 countries, Buffett turned his camera lens on the devastating forces that fuel hunger and poverty. The exhibit will be open to the public July 21 to September 6.


Discovery Park of America is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; and 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday. The park is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For up-to-date hours of operation, ticket pricing, and more details about the park, visit discoveryparkofamerica.com.


 
 
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