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Help tell ag’s story at the Smithsonian

From the horse-powered plows of the first settlers to the GPS-driven combines of today’s farmers, agriculture has played an important role in the history of Illinois. And farmers in our state have helped shape the heritage of the entire nation by providing food, fuel and fiber as the United States grew from a colony into a world leader.

The importance of agriculture to Illinois and the nation will be celebrated in a new exhibition called “American Enterprise” at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington. D.C.

The display will feature objects that represent innovations to build museum visitors’ awareness of the many contributions farmers have made to this nation, such as biotechnology and environmental awareness. Just a few examples of items you’ll be able to see include Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, a 1920s Fordson tractor, Barbara McClintock’s microscope and Stanley Cohen’s recombinant-DNA research notebook.

The United Soybean Board (USB) recognized the importance of telling agriculture’s story and decided to help sponsor the 8,000-square-foot exhibition, which is scheduled to open in 2015.

“Despite the drop in the number of individuals involved in farming over the years, productivity has skyrocketed, and agriculture has evolved into a technology-driven profession in which the decisions made from the cab of a tractor are akin to those made in a CEO’s office,” said John Gray, director of the museum.

It’s important for Illinois farmers to tell our story and promote the importance of agriculture to our nation’s history and economy. No one knows how much agriculture has evolved over the last 70 years better than America’s farmers.

I encourage farmers to visit the museum’s website, www.americanhistory.si.edu/agheritage, to help shape the exhibit and highlight the ways innovations and technology have helped to continually improve our industry. The museum is currently seeking stories, photographs and other agricultural memorabilia. A few suggested themes for submissions include personal experiences, technology, biotechnology, finance, the environment, competition, safety, animals, water and labor.
Stories that are submitted to the site will be used by the Smithsonian’s staff to help prepare the “American Enterprise” exhibitions and others, and could be featured on the museum’s blog and social media entities. Accepted submissions will be made available to the public on the Web.

Whether you’re a sixth-generation farmer or the first in your family to use a planter, you are helping shape our state and country. Your story is one that deserves to be told, and there’s no better time than now.

Sharon Covert is the USB secretary and a soybean farmer from Tiskilwa.

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