Beginning this summer, children and adults alike will experience the science of food in the new exhibit space called GROW at the St. Louis Science Center. Visitors will follow the steps from farm to table including the impacts of weather, a look at the technology it takes to feed the world, and even a “fermentation station” for grown ups to try their hands at beer brewing.
As with any science project, a lot of research went into developing the permanent indoor/outdoor exhibit space. Professor Ingolf Gruen, food science program chair at Mizzou, was one of the members of a committee that was consulted to analyze and give feedback on the evolving display. The committee is composed of members from Mizzou, Washington University and Saint Louis University.
“This concept began about five years ago,” Gruen said. “Few centers highlight agriculture; this (display) is focused heavily on the Midwest.”
Gruen said that some of the key aspects in the display would include bees and honey, soil, climate, growing plants, grains/commodities and agricultural business concepts.
“The Science Center is excited about this opportunity to highlight aspects of conventional farming that many people don’t know much about,” Bert Vescolani, president and CEO of the St. Louis Science Center said. “They don’t understand the science behind growing soybeans or growing corn or wheat. Or even taking care of the animals that we depend on every day.”
The science behind agricultural production methods is constantly developing. It’s more than boots and dirty jeans. Agriculture is a science, and it is one that the people who live in St. Louis and its surrounding communities are striving to learn more about.
“Within a short drive of the Science Center, you are in farm country, and you’re amongst the agriculture benefits of this region,” Vescolani said.
The detail of the display is what members of the committee and employees of the Science Center are really focusing on to communicate to the public.
“One of those things that we feel is important to show is the entire process from planting the seeds and cultivation, to growing and harvesting and transporting,” Vescolani said.
An important part of the display is allowing the public to relate, so it will feature agriculturalists to learn from.
“We really reached out into the community pretty aggressively,” Vescolani said. “We can bring in those individuals to tell stories, to show what they do, to talk about advances, and probably more importantly get rid of some of the myths around farming or agriculture or the science related to those and start to illuminate where farming is going in the future.”
Another important aspect to consider is that agriculture goes beyond growing corn and soybeans or raising beef and pork. By covering the entire agricultural chain, the audience will be able to realize exactly how far agriculture reaches into the community.
“We all have a sense of what farms are all about, but we rely on those [agricultural] partners to drill down and figure out the best stories in the most meaningful way to our audience,” Vescolani said.
Most individuals who will visit the display will not have a close connection to agriculture, making the display their introduction to the agricultural industry.
“It may be an urban population who doesn’t have that connection as clear as some of us who grew up in an area that is closer to farmland and have those experiences,” Vescolani said. “It may be that we want to elevate that story about the importance of our farming and agriculture community and how critical they are to our individual health and nutrition and growth.”
There are high hopes and expectations for this exhibit to be beneficial to all ages. It could make agricultural practices more clear to those who are unfamiliar and encourage others to pursue a career in some aspect of agriculture science.