9 Ways to Learn at the Iowa State Fair

I love the Iowa State Fair. I grew up camping at the fair, so it’s in my blood. I don’t mind the crowds. I enjoy seeing the farm animals, giant vegetables, and beautiful pies on display. I get a kick out of the corny contests and sometimes silly entertainment. But what I love most is the opportunity the State Fair brings to see and learn something new. A few years ago I saw a baby ostrich for the first time and was absolutely amazed. Who knew baby ostriches are speckled with spikey feathers?

Yesterday I visited to take note of the learning opportunities for families. Below are a few of my favorite things to see, do and LEARN at the Iowa State Fair!

1. Meet the Iowa State Fair’s newest baby animals at the Animal Learning Center.  goatThe Animal Learning Center is all about baby animals and education. Walk in a cattle hoop barn, see how baby and momma pigs live on farms, and learn about fish farms in Iowa! If your timing is right, you might get to share the excitement of watching a newborn calf stand on his wobbly legs for the first time. Be sure to check out the ALC’s daily schedule so you don’t miss the Agriculture Bingo, Minute to Win It: Farm Edition, or the Agriculture Magic Show during your visit.

2. Estimate how tall the cornstalks are at Pioneer Hall. Most field corn grown in Iowa is 8-10 feet tall, but the corn you’ll see here is much taller. Each year Iowan’s from across the state carefully bring in their tallest corn stalks to Des Moines to compete in the Tall Corn Contest. You can see a metal replica of the contest’s record holder just outside of the south entrance of the Agricultural Building.

3. Test your agriculture IQ on the Ag Ventures Discovery Trail. Pick up a trail map at any of the State Fair Information Booths, search for the Ag Venture Farm Facts around the fair, and claim your prize!

truck4. See bees, butter, and bioreactors in the Agriculture Building. The butter cow shares a building with some other pretty cool things too. Take a close-up look at bees at the Iowa Honey Association’s display on the upper level, and be sure to explore the Iowa Department of Agriculture and commodity displays in the center of the lower level. There you can talk to famers about what’s happening on their farm, play games, take virtual ride through Iowa’s countryside on a grain truck, and learn what a bioreactor does.

5. Discover something new at the It Takes an Iowan Exhibit. Also, located in the Agriculture Building, this brand-new exhibit showcases the role Iowan’s have played in the ongoing endeavor of providing food for the nation and the world. Walk through the display to read inspiring quotes, learn about famous Iowans, and be inspired to make a difference in your community!

6. Learn the difference between a Hereford and an Angus at the Avenue of Breeds. Located in the northwest corner of the Swine Barn, this is a one-stop shop to see horses, cattle, sheep, and fish – including many breeds that will not be anywhere else at the fair.

IMG_20150813_091910468_resized7. Plant, harvest, and sell crops at Little Hands on the Farm. Grow, harvest, and sell like a farmer at Little Hands on the Farm. Children follow a path to explore a garden, grain bin, apple orchard, chicken coop, tractor shed, sheep barn and dairy barn. After gathering many items along the way, they sell them at the Farmers’ Market for a Little Hands dollar to purchase a snack at the Grocery Store.

8. See what happens to soil and water on farm land and in cities at Farm Bureau Park. Visit the Conservation Station to learn about conservation and water quality, and then test your conservation knowledge while playing a fun ring-toss game.

9. Learn how cows are milked at the Iowa State Fair Milking Parlor. Located on the north side of the Cattle barn, this 20 minute experience will teach you all you want to know about a cow’s life on a dairy farm today. You can also try your hand at milking a cow the old fashioned way with the ISU Dairy Science Club near the Avenue of Dairy Breeds.

I disagree with anyone who says the Iowa State Fair is the same every year. There is always something new to see, and definitely something new to learn! What are your favorites?

– Cindy

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