The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Kansas educates visitors about the historical and present value of agriculture in the United States.
Farm Town, a replica of an early 1900’s Kansas town, at the Ag Center. Photograph courtesy National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Kansas
The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas, is a one-of-a-kind museum that celebrates American agriculture. It serves to highlight that the food, clothes, economy and culture of America have their roots in agriculture.
The Ag Center, as it is popularly known, is the result of the vision of numerous agribusiness leaders of the 1950’s who wanted to showcase and celebrate this vital aspect of American culture. They helped select and purchase the now about 69-hectare property located just outside of Kansas City. “The Ag Center was chartered into existence by the U.S. Congress and President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960,” says Cameron Lee, curator of the museum. “Five years later, the center was gifted its first artifact by President Harry S. Truman himself, a walking plow used on his family farm in Grandview, Missouri, to be placed in the first completed building.” The museum aims to “educate society on the historical and present value of American agriculture and to honor leadership in agribusiness and academia by providing education, information, experience and recognition,” states the museum website.
Visitors can view numerous artifacts in the main museum building, also home to the National Agricultural Hall of Fame and the Art Gallery, with a large collection of rural art. Visitors can also explore the Museum of Farming, a 20,000-square-foot building devoted almost entirely to large antique farm machinery and implements. Next is the Smith House which, as Lee explains, is “a replica of a late 1800’s farmhouse, filled with genuine furniture and appliances, [which] showcases how families lived 100 years ago. It is located right outside of Farm Town USA and next to the fully stocked chicken coop.” Visitors also have the opportunity to experience farm life firsthand. “Guests are invited to grind corn to feed the chickens, ring the dinner bell outside the farmhouse and visit the active beehives and pollinator garden cared for by the Wyandotte County Master Gardeners,” says Lee.
Another important site is Farm Town, an impressive replica of an early 1900’s Kansas town. It is complete with a one-room schoolhouse built in 1917, a hatchery that is also home to the National Poultry Museum, a general store and a blacksmith shop. In addition, visitors can go through the Santa Fe Depot and catch the miniature narrow-gauge Union Pacific train for a ride around the lake. “Visitors to Farm Town are transported back in time to witness life during Westward Expansion,” says Lee.
Besides honoring the development of agriculture and its lineage in the country and region, the museum celebrates today’s agricultural and rural culture. “Agricultural and rural culture, both locally and nationally, are highlighted in the individuals inducted into the Agricultural Hall of Fame,” says Lee. “These individuals come from a variety of backgrounds and represent the evolution of American agriculture throughout history.” This aspect is echoed in the many events the museum hosts and supports. These include the Barnyard Babies Family Festival and Santa’s Express Country Christmas, which attract farmers and families in celebration of agriculture. These family-friendly events have petting zoos, farmer’s markets, live music, demonstrations and games centered around building and fostering community. “These events,” says Lee, “help to educate young people on the importance of agriculture in everyday life, while also introducing them to farmers in their own communities.”
One of the most unique features of the museum is the Tractor Cruise. This is a benefit drive for the Ag Center organized by the Greater Kansas City Two-Cylinder Club. The ride includes tractors from across the Kansas City metro area, and covers over 39 kilometers around Wyandotte County. It brings in generous donations from drivers and spectators to help benefit the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame.
As much as the Ag Center celebrates the past, it also has an eye toward the future. “We are currently developing a number of partnerships with other Kansas City and national organizations in an effort to spread our mission of taking agricultural education beyond our campus,” says Lee. Chief among these are plans for the National Poultry Museum and the hatchery to be redesigned and remodeled to better highlight the historical poultry artifacts and the incredible stories they have to tell.
Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.