Barnyard Discoveries offers farming fun
With more people having moved off the farm in the 21st century, Ron Wasson thinks it's important that the farm comes to them.
That's what is behind Barnyard Discoveries, a mobile display that travels throughout central Illinois bringing a taste of agriculture to young and old. The unit has live animals, set up in little pens, much like the barns of old, along with videos and information about farming.
"We travel to nursing homes, church carnivals and schools," said Wasson, the Kickapoo resident who's in his second year with the traveling display.
"We stay pretty much in a 75-mile radius of Peoria across central Illinois. Any further makes it a little tough, traveling with the animals," he said.
The animals that Wasson brings along make up quite a menagerie. "We've got miniature goats, a miniature horse, sheep, pigs, rabbbits, ducks and chickens," he said.
A recent visit to the Little Tykes Preschool in Mossville let the 45 children get up close and personal with the Nigerian dwarf goats or the miniature horse.
Stacey Reed, the preschool owner, said it was the second year Barnyard Discoveries has paid a visit. "It's the field trip that comes to us," she said.
While 2-year-old Drake Rodgriguez wasn't too interested in petting the pig that had pressed its nose through the little fence in the mobile unit, other youngsters picked up information.
Rylan Tate, 5, knew wool came from a sheep, while Amelia Hart, 3, was aware that cereal comes from wheat. Various grains are displayed in the unit with information displayed about their use.
"I never set out just to have a petting zoo. I want this to be an educational event," said Wasson, 52, who grew up on a farm between Trivoli and Farmington.
"It's important that we show farming in a positive light. Later in life, they'll be fed a lot of negative ideas about agriculture," he said.
"We adjust the program to the audience," said Wasson, explaining that he'd like to be able to bring his traveling barnyard to more groups.
"I wish I could meet all the requests we get, but some groups just can't afford to pay anything," he said. Wasson, who estimated the cost of a two-hour visit at $350, a cost that includes travel expenses, animal care and general maintenance. He'd like to obtain sponsors to help make trips possible for needy organizations.
Wasson said a lot of the information posted on the walls of the traveling barnyard - "Pigs can't sweat so they roll in mud to stay cool and prevent sunburns" - comes from the Illinois Farm Bureau.
"The farm bureau has helped us a lot. They also have a program called Ag in the Classroom," he said.
The Peoria County Farm Bureau, which operates the classroom program, provided presentations reaching more than 800 classes and 16,000 students in the past school year, noted bureau manager Patrick Kirchhofer.