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Agriculture Education exhibit brings Howard Fair into focus

As you make your way in or out of the Howard County Fair, odds are you'll pass by the Agriculture Education exhibit.

It doesn't look like much from the outside – a white tent sandwiched between the produce vendors and the beginning of the midway – but don't let its modest exterior fool you.

You may know it as the place with the cut-out photo boards, or the place with the wooden milking cow. Maybe you know it as the place with the baby chickens and ducks, or that tent with all those interactive games.

To its curator and organizer, Kristi Currier, the Agriculture Education exhibit is all those things and more.

"We are always open to new ideas," Currier said as she explained one of the tent's numerous displays at the Howard County Fairgrounds, which will host the fair through Aug. 9.

"We want as many interactive games that kids and parents can play together, because then the discussion starts," she said. "And that's all we want: parents and kids to be together, and discussion."

The exhibit's purpose is straightforward: to inform and educate fairgoers about agriculture. The execution of that goal is not so easily defined, as Currier knows. Since taking over running the tent in 2012, Currier, who works as an agriculture specialist for the federal government, has worked year-round in her spare time to bring the tent to life.

"She's a one-woman wonder," said Carol Chaney, president of the Howard County Fair. "She has this incredible vision. She works full-time and her time is limited, but each year she continues to build on it. She's been such a force."

Inside the tent are a series of stations, each offering information about a particular agricultural product and each with its own interactive element. Almost all the gimmicks – which include a wooden flip board on animal footprints, electronic switchboards matching crops to their respective fields or post boards with the latest industry news clippings – are homemade.

Most things are new each year, too, which Currier says makes for a never-ending cycle of production.

"It starts right now," Currier said about preparing for next year's fair. "It's a work in progress. We always have so many in the plans that we are finishing throughout the week."

Currier said she has "files and files and files" of information packed away in her Lisbon home. Some of the ideas come straight from the mouths of fairgoers themselves. Others, she says, are derived from industry newsletters, press clippings and other information sources.

"You start observing people, and say, 'OK that didn't work.' We have to take that same information and present it in a different way," she said. "Or someone will ask me a question about something that we just don't have anything on. I'll make a note of it."

And although it does not receive as much fan fare as some of the fair's more high-profile attractions – the rides on the midway, the Bull Blast rodeo, the Monster Truck Madness – Chaney says the tent is fundamental to what the fair is all about.

"Our main mission as an association is promotion of agriculture in our community," Chaney said. "We are a firm believer if we can make people recognize agriculture, they can recognize the importance and value of the local farmer."

Chaney says people like Currier, who take a creative and out-of-the-box approach to that mission, are integral to the Howard County Fair.

While Chaney is quick to praise Currier's efforts, Currier will readily admit the tent is not all that it can be.

"It's just a baby as far as I'm concerned," she said.

She has big plans for the exhibit, hoping one day to have enough space to incorporate a children's play area with a haystack maze, but Currier knows the challenge she faces.

"They are coming for the rides, and if we can get them on the way, that's good," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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