How Fair Oaks Farms is Addressing the Farmer Shortage in Indiana (and the World) (via Indianapolis Monthly)

Indianapolis Monthly — About 250 times a day at Fair Oaks Farms, someone reaches into a large and uncomfortable gilt and pulls out a piglet. Usually, this happens in full view of tourists, who come by the busload and make the noises people make when they watch someone remove a baby from a pig. It’s daily life in the Pig Adventure, one of the most popular attractions at Fair Oaks, a 33,000-acre farm that has grown into the largest agritourism site in the country. The farm buses visitors to a massive facility that tracks the animals’ lives from birth to motherhood. Rows of pink pigs—chattering, dozing, and bumping each other around—reach out from the observation windows, while staffers tend to the animals’ feeding and astronomic levels of waste removal. (Naturally, the exhibit opens with a considerable display dedicated to America’s long-simmering obsession with bacon.)

The pig party is far from Fair Oaks’s only draw. There’s a similar Dairy Adventure that teaches milk production by putting visitors directly in front of a cow-go-round, a huge and slowly rotating wheel from which the animals are fed and cared for. There’s a Crop Adventure that promotes sustainability and conservation while laying out a map of what the ag industry might look like in coming decades. And interspersed within the main attractions are plenty of family activities: climbing walls, trampolines, mini-tractor rides, an ice cream parlor, and a cafeteria which contains—with apologies to Grandma—the finest grilled cheeses in Northwest Indiana.

All of which sounds about as wholesome and traditional as roadside family entertainment gets. Many have described the place as an “agricultural Disney,” one that gives visitors—especially kids—an intimate look at a fully functional, occasionally smelly farm. In affording them the chance to gape at animal babies and combines, though, Fair Oaks aspires to do more than sell admission tickets. It hopes to solve a looming problem for the agriculture industry: As the global population explodes, the number of farmers producing food for those people is dwindling. And addressing that shortage turns out to be less about inspiring kids to bale hay or drive a tractor, and more about getting them into molecular biology, robotic technology, and logistics.

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About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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