Museum Milestone: MSI’s Farm Tech Exhibit Turns 20
Twenty years ago, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) debuted “The Farm,” an exhibit now known as “Farm Tech.” But the groundwork for the agricultural display at the museum began years earlier with an idea from Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) member Sharon Covert of Tiskilwa.
Covert had visited the museum with her young grandson and looked for the farm exhibit, but found only “Food For Life,” which offered information about nutrition and food groups but not production agriculture. Covert started to explore the idea of expanding the exhibit to educate visitors about modern farming.
She first took the concept to the IFB Women’s Committee and then to the Board of Directors. The Illinois Agricultural Association Foundation worked with museum planners, initially on an exhibit that would simply update “Food For Life,” but it ultimately became “The Farm.”
Covert invited two museum employees to her family’s farm in Bureau County. At the same time, IFB began approaching agribusiness leaders, commodity groups and its own membership to secure support for the future of the exhibit. Archer Daniels Midland became the first to pledge a major donation. Nearly every county Farm Bureau also contributed to the project.
More museum representatives visited the farm to see different stages of the corn and soybean crop, including the executive director, who brought his family for a combine ride during harvest. John Deere would eventually donate the combine that remains a part of the exhibit today.
It took more than five years to bring the exhibit to fruition, but MSI officially opened “The Farm” in fall of 2000.
Today, guests can climb behind the steering wheel of a combine equipped with GPS for precise rows or challenge friends and family to a speed contest on the robotic milking simulator. Visitors can also find a soy shed where they can see just how many of the items in their pantry use this versatile bean.
“When I’ve been there, there are always people in the ag exhibit,” Covert says. “Kids and adults still like to climb in that combine and turn the switch, and a movie that shows harvesting corn comes up.”
During its inaugural year, IFB included a museum tour with the annual meeting in Chicago so Farm Bureau members could experience it firsthand. In 2015, MSI staff facilitated a discussion with the 40 participants of the Illinois Agriculture Leadership Program about what’s changing in agriculture, new trends and technologies, and what they anticipate farming will look like in the future.
See more: Step Back in Time at the 1930s Ag Museum
MSI redeveloped the exhibit in 2007, renaming it “Farm Tech.” New interactive elements encourage guests to engage with the science and technology used to help raise the world’s food and keep up with a growing demand.
“‘Farm Tech’ showcases the ingenuity and the high level of skill needed by farmers to both adapt to and innovate – new ways to continue supplying food to people around the world,” says Patricia Ward, MSI’s director of Science and Exhibitions. “As a museum that is dedicated to sparking scientific inquiry and creativity in everyone, we understand the value in our guests engaging with and learning about what’s involved in creating all that we consume.”
Throughout its development, MSI has collaborated with and received donations from various organizations and companies to give guests an interactive experience with the science of farming. Covert says it was a complex project, but an important one for agriculture.
“It took a long time. The agricultural community and the museum were very receptive to doing the project to try to give the urban population a little idea of what goes on at the farm here in the Midwest,” she says.
MSI welcomes approximately 1.5 million guests each year, who interact with many exhibits that are included with entry into the museum, including “Farm Tech.”
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To learn more or plan your visit, head to msichicago.org. Also check out these other exhibits at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry:
Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery: Learn about traits and genetics and watch baby chicks hatch out of their shells.
Science Storms: Check out the science behind nature’s storms, including tornadoes, tsunamis and lightning strikes.
U-505 Submarine: Tour the only German submarine in the United States, now a national memorial to 55,000 American sailors who perished on the high seas during WWI and WWII.
YOU! The Experience: Run inside a human-size hamster wheel and watch your heart beat 13 feet tall.
The Great Train Story: Watch more than 20 scale model trains travel from the Rocky Mountains to Chicago skyscrapers.
Transportation Gallery: Board the 999 Steam Locomotive or a genuine Boeing 727, and see a “Jenny” biplane or WWII Stuka dive-bomber.
Wired to Wear: See global technologies from industry pioneers and creative visionaries that will make us stronger, smarter and healthier.
Makers United: Build a piece of wearable technology in the museum’s newest hands-on experience.
Christmas Around the World: Experience the annual celebration including the four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree and more than 50 other displays representing holiday traditions from around the world.