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'Reaping What We Sow'

The Stevens County History Museum will open its new exhibit, "Reaping What We Sow," next weekend. The exhibit features a history of agriculture in the county, plus a look at how ag life might evolve in the future.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

In 1913, an agriculture exposition drew about 20,000 people to Morris. Folks had problems finding places to sleep and churches which were trying to feed everyone ran out of food.

But the benefits far outweighed the logistical troubles. The expo underscored the importance of agriculture, not only as a way of life at that time, but as a harbinger of the future.

The expo was one historical event that led the Stevens County History Museum to present the "Reaping What We Sow" exhibit, which documents the history of agriculture in Stevens County, said museum director Randee Hokanson.

With this year's celebration of the 100th anniversary of the West Central School of Agriculture and the 50th anniversary of the University of Minnesota, Morris, combined with the recent 50th anniversary of the ARS Soils Lab, the time was right for the exhibit, Hokanson said.

"It was a timely kind of collaboration with those celebrations," Hokanson said. "This has been on our burners for years, and with the 'Barn Again' exhibit a few years ago, we had great success. We had a side exhibit on ag. It brought in such a different crowd and the people really loved it."

A preview opening of "Reaping What We Sow" is 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 9. The grand opening of the exhibit is 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 10, and will feature a "field lunch" of sandwiches and homemade cakes.

Panel "film strips" of about 50 photographs culled from the museum's archives will hang above the exhibit panels, and a visitor's guide available at the museum will contain information about each of the photos. One panel pays homage to the 45 Century Farms in the county.

Hokanson said learning about the 1913 expo really sparked the idea. Not only is the area a major growing area, ag research and outreach are ingrained in the culture, with the West Central Research and Outreach Center, UMM and the Soils Lab, Hokanson said.

"At the 1913 expo, there were 20,000 people in town. In December!" Hokanson said. "The railroad brought in extra trains to handle all the people."

The focus of the expo was alfalfa and corn production, and there were contests devoted to those crops. The corn contests drew 22,000 entries, Hokanson said.

"That's like the State Fair," she said.

The expo also had a significant impact on the role of women involved in agriculture. Two companion exhibits to "Reaping What We Sow" are "In the Line of Duty" and "Hearts of the Home," which both are dedicated to women's roles in running farms.

"Hearts of the Home" is a mobile exhibit paying tribute to 100 years of Extension and homemaking, and the 75th anniversary of the annual Homemakers Workshop. The mobile exhibit will be on tour in the county this summer at events such as the Donnelly Threshing Bee, Horticulture Night, the Stevens County Fair and at the UMM campus during Alumni Weekend.

Like the expo, Hokanson said she believes "Reaping What We Sow" will allow visitors to understand the appeal of agricultural life.

"It says rural life is a high-quality way of life," Hokanson said. "You can make a good living and do exciting things that you are passionate about."