Farming roots visible at Fair

Corn and soybeans growing next to a children’s midway might seem like an odd placement except that this is the North Dakota State Fair. Children chasing each other between rows of sunflowers and beans is part of the entertainment experience at a fair that has its roots in agriculture.

The type of crops reflect North Dakota agriculture.

Eric Eriksmoen, research agronomist at North Central Research Extension Center, said staff at the Minot station this year planted corn, soybeans, canola and sunflowers in mid-May. Some years, they have planted spring wheat or flax. Public input is considered in determining what to plant.

“Part of what I have tried to do is have something that will flower and be a little showy,” Eriksmoen said. This year, the flowering canola puts some color in the crop plot. Eriksmoen said canola typically has lost its yellow bloom by this time of year, but because of the cooler weather this summer, it continues to flower for fair-goers.

The purple bloom of potato plants also adds to the attractiveness of the plot.

FFA members at TGU-Granville planted the potatoes.

Jeff Hagel, vocational agriculture instructor at the school, said the State Fair office invited him three years ago to have students participate in the crop plot. Meeting with fair staff and personnel at the Extension center, it was decided to plant potatoes.

The Extension center does the fertilization and initial tilling, and students re-till and plant, using seed potatoes provided by the center.

“We go ahead and till and weed the potatoes basically until the fair is over,” Hagel said. “State Fair employees at that point go ahead and take over They harvest the plot in the fall.”

Hagel said TGU-Granville also has had a garden at the school for the past nine years. Students help with seeding of the vegetables, which are later harvested by students for use in the school lunch program.

Hagel said the school garden and crop plot offer opportunities for service learning, getting youth involved in their community as well as teaching them valuable skills.

“It’s an educational experience for some of these kids that don’t have gardens at home,” he said.

The Extension center doesn’t harvest its fair crop but will cut and remove most of the growth. The State Fair staff later remove the corn, which is a field corn rather than the sweet, edible variety.

Staff at the Extension center spend the weeks before the fair weeding and fertilizing so fair-goers see a clean, thriving crop. In the past, crops have been labeled, but the center’s existing labels seemed to have been misplaced so weren’t available to place in the plot this year, Eriksmoen explained.

Still, it’s never long before a knowledgeable farmer walks by to aid anyone confused about what is growing there. People can check out the crop plot at the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.