Concourse Fairs: The Next Big Cooperative Extension Idea?

I hate waste — wasted time, wasted effort and, worst of all, wasted opportunity.

I think that we Extension professionals, so preoccupied with steering our listing ship across stormy waters, often lose sight of golden opportunities to promote our work.

I was reminded of that last week putting finishing touches on a press release that dealt with the return of our 1939 State Fair murals to Birmingham for the first time in more than 70 years.

That started some deep reflection on our historic association with state fairs.

Then, the thought occurred to me: Why must it be something associated largely with our past?  For various reasons too numerous to enumerate, our historically close association with state fairs represents potentially huge marketing advantages.  Our challenge is to translate this association into 21st century terms.

That’s precisely the point at which I was struck by this inspirational idea: concourse fairs.

What do I mean? All sorts of modern urban and suburban  environments are equipped with concourses.  So why not organize “fairs” around these concourses?

Yes, the most obvious venue is malls, but why not concentrate first on those places where an awareness of Extension programming is most critically needed — college campuses?

Virtually all colleges and universities are equipped with concourses or similar open spaces that typically serve as popular venues for students activities.

Granted, all concourse fairs, particularly college fairs, should be tailored to specific audiences. That raises the question: What sorts of fair-related, uh, fare would offer the most compelling interest to college students? In this critical juncture of their lives, certainly not many of the things traditionally associated with autumn fairs.

I see these campus concourse fairs complementing much of what’s being discussed within the campus context.  For example, fair exhibits could focus on the ongoing debate between modern and organic farming methods and the role technology (e.g., precision farming, genetically modified crops and smart irrigation) will serve in feeding a growing human population.

Pressed for time, most college students eat on the go — the reason why I think food safety exhibits would also work well in this context.

Granted, a lot of creative thought will have to be invested in designing these fairs to attract college students, but I’m entirely convinced that it’s doable.  Like everything else associated with college outreach, it will have to be highly accessible, hands-on and interactive.

But as I said, I’m fully convinced that it can be done.

The same sort of creative designing also should be invested in concourse fairs at malls and strip malls.  Much like college concourse fairs, organizers should be highly cognizant of the audiences.

Some topics that come readily to mind: food safety; the pros and cons of home produce and livestock production; and the merits of conventionally- versus organically-grown produce.

Yes, among some of you, this idea may seem a bit of a rhetorical and creative overstretch on my part.  Even so, I think it has great potential for highlighting our messages among the segments of our society who are indispensable to our future.

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