TISKILWA, Ill. — A new exhibit highlighting agricultural
innovations will be established at the Smithsonian National Museum of American
History in Washington, D.C.
The 8,000-square-foot American Enterprise exhibition will
focus on the role of business and innovation in the U.S. from the mid-1700s to
The exhibit will tell America’s story by focusing on five
areas: agriculture, consumer finance, information technology/communication,
manufacturing and retail/service.
Expected to open in May 2015, the project budget is $20
million. Gifts of $1 million from the United Soybean Board and $2 million from
Monsanto Co. have been given to support the development of the new
Sharon Covert, chair of the USB Customer Focus Action Team,
has been working with the Smithsonian for several years on the development of an
exhibit that features the importance of the agriculture industry to the
development of the nation.
“I went to visit the museum in 2008 to see what they had
done with agriculture after it had been renovated,” she said. “The only ag items
there were John Deere’s original plow and a mockup of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin
model that was used to defend his patent in court.”
“I wondered how can you tell the history of America without
talking about the contributions of agriculture to our society?” Covert asked.
“Farmers provide an ample and safe supply of food for America, and people are
interested in how food is produced, so I thought the museum needed to tell this
In January 2009, Covert wrote a letter to the Smithsonian
expressing her concerns about the lack of agriculture exhibits. Although she did
not receive a response from the museum for quite some time, she eventually did
receive a letter inviting her to come and visit the museum.
“While I was in Washington for a meeting, I asked a couple
of other farmers to go with me, and we met with several Smithsonian curators,”
The farmers explained to the curators how they felt about
the importance of agriculture to the nation and that this story was missing at
“They agreed that the exhibit did not give agriculture the
recognition it deserved,” Covert said.
In the fall of 2011, Smithsonian curators visited Illinois
to obtain a firsthand view of today’s agricultural industry. The visit included
time at Jim and Sharon Covert’s farm, where they grow corn and soybeans, near
“We also went to ADM, Caterpillar and a pork farm because I
wanted them to understand the relationship between animal agriculture and row
crops,” Sharon Covert said. “We also visited Monsanto so they could learn about
biotechnology and what it has meant for the agricultural industry.”
Additional stops included the Farm Progress Show and a land
“I thought it was important to give them a real background
about rural life and agriculture,” Covert said.
To help develop the new exhibit at the Smithsonian, the
curators are asking farmers to contribute their stories and artifacts to help
preserve the history of agriculture, as well as feature modern ag
The Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive is now
active, and farmers who would like to contribute a story can go to
“Farmers can tell their story that should be remembered,”
Covert said. “They are looking for artifacts that tell a story or depict an
event. The better the artifacts they get, the better the exhibit.”
One example of a farmer’s contribution is from Jim Rapp, who
farms near Princeton.
“When the curators visited Illinois, we went to Jim’s farm
because he was combining corn that day,” Covert said. “While we were standing in
his machine shed talking, they noticed Jim’s signs hanging on the wall, and they
asked if he would like to donate them to the new exhibit.”
One sign, which promotes soil preservation via the use of
no-till, was developed by the Bureau County Soil and Water Conservation
Rapp also is donating a series of Burma-Shave-type signs
that focus on the use of ethanol. Those signs were designed by the Illinois Corn
“The agricultural story is an important story to tell
because people want to know about food,” Covert said.
The USB is sponsoring the American Enterprise exhibit, she
said, because the farmers know the importance of providing accurate information
about their industry.
“Consumers need to know about the past, present and future
of this industry and what we do and why,” she said.
Covert has been involved with soybean promotion for quite
some time. She served as a member of the Illinois Soybean Program Operating
Board for six years and as chairman of that group for one of those years.
When an opening became available on the USB, Covert was
nominated by the Illinois group. The Bureau County farmer was appointed to the
USB by the U.S. secretary of agriculture and will complete her ninth and final
year on the board this year.
“Serving on USB has been a great experience, and I hope I
have helped improve the profitability of U.S. soybean farmers,” she said.
In the past, Covert has been involved with international
“Last year, when it was so dry, a man from China who
represents one of the largest importers of U.S. soybeans came to visit our
farm,” she said. “He wanted to see for himself the problems we were having
instead of just hearing about it.”
The U.S. exports about 60 percent of its soybean production,
and 50 to 60 percent of that goes to China, Covert said.
“We need to listen to our customers so we can provide the
soybeans they want, the way they want them,” she added.
“The American Enterprise area will also include a theater
area where there will be plays about agriculture,” Covert said. “Or there might
be demonstrations about agriculture so visitors can understand what happens in
There also is a possibility that the Smithsonian will
develop a traveling exhibit.
“This exhibit will tell the story of how we produce food,”
Admission to the Smithsonian is free. The museum is located
at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to
For about the National Museum of American History, visit