A half dozen carnival games, 40 banners, picket fences, life-size cutouts of cows, pigs and chickens, boxes of magazines, and cases of cleaning supplies all spill out of the truck. The tarps come off overwintered equipment: patio furniture, a coloring table for a half dozen kids, and the star of the show – the Veggie 500 racetrack.
For 11 days every August, this building becomes a wonderland where kids learn about farms, food and even consumer issues.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Farm and Family Building is a must-see for many families who visit the fair. The Veggie 500 has been a fixture at the State Fair since 1993, predating the building itself. The brainchild of the late Bob Williams, a long-time DATCP staffer known as Mr. Fair, the Veggie 500 gets some second-generation racers every year. State FFA officers deck out real vegetables with wheels and flashy decorations, interview racers with corn-cob microphones, and offer colorful commentary as the six veggie cars race down the slope. After the race, kids know something about vegetables.
There’s the Big Wheel, where kids learn fun facts like how many glasses of milk a Wisconsin cow makes in a year. They toss bean feedbags into animals’ mouths while they learn what livestock and pets eat, they play Plinko to see if their “food” falls to a safe place, and track a bad guy through a maze before he steals from consumers. They color. All for free.
“It’s important to our leaders at DATCP that we educate our visitors, but we make it fun,” says Bill Cosh, whose communications staff oversees the building. “Fair-goers are mostly urban, and they’re often amazed at the things that we take for granted because we grew up on farms and work in agriculture. It’s a major investment of staff time, but it’s gratifying.”