Goal of ‘Ask a Farmer’ program to start conversations
DOSWELL, Va. (Sept. 26, 2017) — Lynwood Broaddus’ outfit is an ensemble. It’s an important part of his job at the State Fair of Virginia.
Clean Dickies overalls. A checkered, button-down shirt with sleeves neatly rolled at the elbows. A Virginia Farm Bureau hat.
The grace note: a patterned, red bandanna that hangs from his right back pocket. To him, a tell-tale cliché of the all-American farmer, but it gets people talking.
“I read at the schools. I walk into kindergarten and stand in the hallway, and all the kids go by: ‘Farmer.’ I don’t have to tell them who I am,” Broaddus said. “They identify the overalls, the red bandanna. … It engages me immediately in a conversation.”
It’s the fourth year Broaddus has donned the outfit and stood his post at the fair as its “Ask a Farmer” representative. Over the course of the event, he said he’ll be stationed at a small farm plot located in the fair’s Harvest Landing section, answering fairgoers’ questions.
The plot includes crops grown across Virginia, from those many people recognize such as corn, soybeans and tobacco to less known crops such as grain sorghum.
“They’re not used to it,” he said. “They’re used to the corn and soybeans, and now all of a sudden in the fall of the year, they see a field that’s bright red. It’s like, ‘What is that?’ And of course they’re running at 60 miles an hour so it’s kind of hard to tell.”
There are other details to explain as well. Often, he said, he tries to correct misconceptions. He explains, for instance, that a bushel of corn isn’t totally consumed when it’s used to make ethanol. One of its byproducts is distiller’s grain, a useful animal feed. Carbon dioxide released during the process can also be captured for soft drink production or other uses, he said.
There are occasionally more serious misconceptions as well. He said he was once told, oddly, that farmers spray Roundup on wheat to fatten the grain.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on the Internet, and there’s nothing to back it up,” Broaddus said. “Many have their idea, and they’re not going to be corrected, and so you don’t go at it trying to correct them. I just try to explain what I do, and maybe they’ll realize, ‘I’ve been talking to somebody who actually does this.’”
In addition to crops, there will also be informative displays showing, for instance, how cornstarch is used to make plastics, among other things. The plot is also next to a rocky, hilly section that is fenced off for a popular goat attraction.
But Broaddus said one-on-one conversation is his primary goal.
“I feel like I have done my job if they have left here learning one new fact about agriculture,” he said. “Because Farm Bureau, we’re a lobbying organization, and the best thing we can have is if the population knows where their food comes from and can get the correct answers to questions.”