Growing A New Generation

Many children do not have ties to agriculture or the opportunity to learn about the industry. The Bayer Museum is working to change that through the addition of the children's education wing. Photo courtesy of the Bayer Museum of Agriculture.

cacophony of noise engulfs your ears. Squeals of delight and peals of laughter surround you. Imagine children milling around, climbing up and down ladders and around a brightly colored room that seems to always be in motion. Little fingers touch, play and create new worlds, stimulated by their surroundings. You see dozens of make-believe scenarios being played out as kids consume information that will expand their horizons while doing what they do best – play.

This is the vision for the Bayer Museum of Agriculture and what ultimately will be a new addition that solidifies it as a place to educate visitors of all ages about agriculture.

The Start of a Dream

The Bayer Museum of Agriculture strives to bring the history of agriculture to everyone. This purpose is embedded in the organization’s mission statement and encourages the museum, “to preserve the history of, tell the story of and instill pride in American agricultural values.” When it comes to fulfilling that mission, the Bayer Museum of Agriculture is really good at what it does.

Despite the outstanding quality of the museum’s exhibits, there is something missing. The museum’s exhibit spaces are oriented mainly to adult audiences and the museum has only a handful of exhibits targeted toward children. Because kids primarily learn through doing and touching rather than observing, the static nature of most of the museum’s exhibits does little to engage a young, curious audience.

Once this shortcoming was identified, the challenge then became finding a way for the museum to become a place where everyone, from grandfather to grandchild, could enjoy a fun and educational experience.

In 2008, while attending the museum’s annual fundraiser, then museum board member Zach Brady and several others began conversations with Lacee Hoelting, Bayer Museum of Agriculture’s executive director, and quickly realized Lubbock did not have a place where children could learn about agriculture in an environment catered specifically to their learning styles. By adding a children’s wing, the museum would be able to better serve a key visitor demographic.

“This is the most obvious area where the museum could improve right now,” Brady said. “It’s the most important next step we can take.”

The Dream Begins to Develop

Fast forward to 2015 when Hoelting attended the Association of Children’s Museums Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was here Hoelting met representatives from Redbox Workshops, a Chicago-based company that creates children’s displays, including some farm-related exhibits across the nation. With Redbox providing knowledge about children’s exhibits and the Bayer Museum of Agriculture bringing its wealth of agricultural knowledge, a collaborative partnership was formed.

At that point, and with a little help from the J.T. and Margaret Talkington Foundation, a private organization which funds charitable causes centered around the arts and youth education, the museum found enough money to begin actively planning for the new addition. Soon, important questions such as what to include and how to present it began to come to light.

Decisions, Decisions

Hoelting said the museum wanted the new exhibits to present a more modern-day view of the industry. Therefore, the new wing would focus on the vast array of careers available in agriculture and show people in many different agricultural settings beyond the stereotypical middle man in overalls chewing a piece of straw and sitting on a tractor.

“No matter what you want to major in or what job you want, there is a place for it in agriculture,” Hoelting said.

This is the message the museum wants to promote through the wing.

Following two trips to facilities across the country specializing in presenting to children, the museum was able to identify several components that are important, but often overlooked, when educating children.

Finding the Funding

The final step, and in many ways the most daunting, toward making the dream a reality was gathering supporters for the new wing and raising money to cover the estimated $3.5 million it would cost.

 “We have about $1.5 million already raised,” Hoelting said. “We have about another $2 million out in requests right now and we also have several sponsorships available on exhibits. Everyone can help out. We will take $1. We will take a million dollars. We are not picky.”

In 2019, the Museum’s fundraising efforts for the children’s wing are increasing. As Lubbock grows in size, becoming more urban, the disconnect with agriculture grows, making the need for the wing more imperative.

“Agriculture is still such a huge part of our economy, but if you’re not teaching children and their families about agriculture and the people who produce it, we are going to lose a little bit more of our identity as an agricultural community every day,” Hoelting said.

Running parallel to the fundraising efforts, the museum is working with Redbox architects to finalize a design and floor plan. The tentative name for the children’s wing the museum is utilizing is AgWorks. The duel meaning of the name, Hoelting explained, is to highlight the careers available in agriculture and the positive connotation of everyone working together within the industry.

As adults it is important to help nurture children’s learning in all things but especially in those which will impact them throughout their lives. Photo courtesy of the Bayer Museum of Agriculture.

High Hopes for the Future

The museum is hoping to partner with more people across the Lubbock area and beyond as they begin to see the benefits the wing will provide for our children. Brady has been a supporter of the project since its conception and, as a Lubbock ISD board member, sees the importance of educating children about agriculture.

“It’s just an opportunity to teach,” Brady said. “It’s an opportunity to tell the story to a different population.”

Brady believes the wing will be a destination for not only Lubbock school children, but for children from around the area and those passing through. To realize this goal, Brady said the museum plans to have a space where outside groups who already have educational materials and programs can present them to students.

“Nobody’s trying to reinvent the wheel,” Brady said. “It’s about adapting and using stuff that works.”

The last and final step is to execute the plan and break ground for the new wing. Although the Bayer Museum of Agriculture is not yet to this stage, Hoelting said they are working to have the wing fully funded and completed by 2021. Looking to the future, it will become an educational staple of the Lubbock community.

Mary Jane Buerkle, a current Bayer Museum of Agriculture board member and director of communications and public affairs for Plains Cotton Growers, believes it is essential for children to have an opportunity to learn about agriculture in a year-round setting.

Once completed, the museum will be a place where all ages can come together to learn and enjoy their time exploring the history of Lubbock and agriculture. There is still a lot of work to be done to make the museum’s dream a reality, and by the end of the process, the museum will teach children of all ages about agriculture.

Grandpa can go look at tractors, the grandkids can play in the children’s wing. There is something for everyone.

With progress toward the children’s wing gaining momentum, the Bayer Museum of Agriculture and its supporters are determined to succeed. You can almost feel the excitement, see the energy of the children, and hear the effervescent chatter of kids learning about the special industry that helps feed and clothe the world.

“It’s outside what most would consider a traditional curriculum,” Buerkle said, “and it can enhance what many teachers are already doing in the classroom in regard to teaching about agriculture. The earlier we start instilling in our children the importance of agriculture, the more likely they are to carry that with them throughout the rest of their life.”