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JOHNSON CREEK - The sun shone brightly and the heat index was low, much to the pleasure of everyone attending Farm Technology Days (FTD) in Johnson Creek at the Walter Grain Farms on July 23. 

With the singing of the National Anthem and Mike and Sue Walter's grandchildren leading the Pledge of Allegiance, the opening day was the culmination of three years of work from 16 committees and 1,500 volunteers working during the three-day event. 

"It's one of those things, after three years, it's here and it's going to be gone and I'm not sure it's real yet," said Mike Walter. 

Three years of "chaotic running around" Mike said, "And it's here and it's worth it."

Three years of planning and meeting for a three-day event. But in those three years, they met a number of people they had never met before. 

"Hard-working farmers and businessmen who have put all their heart and soul into making this a great show. There is no way this could be done," Sarah said during the opening ceremony. "When you think this was a hay field a month ago, and the amount of work and drive that went into it."

Sarah said, "You start out in chaos but you pull closer and closer every year and now at the end it's beautiful."

"This is all about everybody else," added Mike. "It isn't ours. We just supply the place for them to have it. Everybody else puts the show on."

The event shows how a group of people, some who didn't know each other, could come together to orchestrate an event expected to draw 40,000. Sarah hopes some who come to the show who aren't farmers will "see what a community we are."

Thirty-five years ago, in 1984 when the show, then called Farm Progress Days, was hosted by Bud and Bev Walter, Mike's parents, the event was smaller, with fewer volunteers needed, but it was still a lot of extra work. And it was still worthwhile. 

"So everyone can get together and see everything and what goes on and how other people live," said Bev.

Pat Breselow, Bev's daughter, thinks the event helps people realize how important farming is — in the community and in the state. 

"It's an integral piece of life," said Breselow. "My husband and I own a grocery store so we are at the other end of how this all works out. There's a lot of customers — kids I'm going to say — that think they just get their food out of the grocery store. They don't realize what it takes to get that food. That's why I think this is awesome."

Sarah hopes the added events of the block party and wine and beer tasting will draw people to FTD who might not have attended otherwise.

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Two-year-old Finn Jeannered and his mom visited the event for the first time because Finn likes big trucks and tractors and animals - everything FTD has to offer. 

Blue-shirted Ag Career Day participants dotted Tent City during the day, some having traveled six hours on a bus, to visit the agricultural event and explore career opportunities. When asked, some said they know they want to pursue an ag career, some shrugged their shoulders, but all agreed exploring FTD would be fun. 

Off in a corner of the FTD grounds, tucked behind the equine tent, Future Farmers of America (FFA) members competed in the State FFA Safe Tractor Operator Contest, having qualified through one of four regional events for a chance to claim a trophy and bragging rights as the best tractor operator. 

Attendees could ride and drive trucks and tractors, see the latest combines and balers and watch a field tiling demonstration. From the oldest reminiscing along the lines of heritage tractors to the youngest barely reaching the ground to move a toy tractor, Farm Technology Days turns 70 acres of farmland into an agricultural wonderland ripe with technology and steeped in generations of farming.

Among all that technology, don't forget the farmer, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff said during the opening ceremony. 

"As important as the technology is, as important as the economic impact of farming is, when you are here, do not forget the farmer," Pfaff said. "We are here because of the farmer. That individual that plants the seed, that puts down the fertilizer, that harvests the crop in the fall. It is the farmer."

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.

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