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Smithsonian tells agriculture story

Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 4:34 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, April 1, 2013 5:17 p.m. CST

Two Bureau County farmers are playing roles in the development of the new American Experience agriculture exhibition which will open in May 2015 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D C.

Smithsonian Director John Gray has announced the Smithsonian has invited farmers from around the country to participate in a new Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive with their stories, photographs, farming equipment and other farming items. The new collection will play a role in the development of the “American Enterprise” exhibition which is set to open in 2015.

Princeton corn and soybean farmer Jim Rapp has donated signs from his farm for the new exhibition. Tiskilwa farmer Sharon Covert and her husband, Jim, hosted Smithsonian curators Peter Liebhold and Nancy Davis for a tour of their farm and other area farms in 2009, so the curators could learn about farming in Illinois and what items could possibly be included in the American Experience exhibition.

Explaining how some of his farm signs were selected for the Smithsonian exhibition, Rapp said Covert had brought Liebhold to his farm two falls ago for a tour. Liebhold noticed Rapp’s Burma Shave type signs, which were about ethanol, and another sign, which was a promotion of No Till practices.

“We showed him (Liebhold) around; he rode the combine, and then he spotted the signs in my shop,” Rapp said. “After I told the story of the signs, he told me about what they wanted to do at the Smithsonian, and then he asked if they could have the signs. So I shipped them to Washington D.C., last summer. It’s great to know the Smithsonian is doing a display about agriculture with different things most people have never seen or thought about.”

In a press release issued by the Smithsonian, Covert commented on the importance of agriculture in the history of the United States. Covert has been active in the Illinois Soybean Association and is currently serving as a director of the United States Soybeans Association.

“Agriculture has and will continue to play an integral role in business and the American economy as a whole,” Covert said. “The American Enterprise exhibition will spotlight and build awareness for the many contributions the agricultural community has made to America, such as precision farming, biotechnology and environmental awareness.”

In announcing the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive, Gray also commented on the impact of agriculture on the country.

“The story of agriculture is important and complex,” Gray said. “In Jefferson’s time, 96 percent of Americans were farmers; today, that number is less than 2 percent. Despite this drop, productivity has skyrocketed, and agriculture has evolved into a technology-driven profession with the cab of a tractor akin to a traditional CEO’s office.”

The $20 million American Enterprise project will tell the story of the nation’s business, focusing on the areas of agriculture, consumer finance, information, retail/service and technology/communication.

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