BENTON — Festival season is well underway in Southern Illinois, and Franklin County is poised to host its second major event of the season — Farm City Days in Benton.
Steve Browning, chairman of Farm City Days, said this event is designed to celebrate one of the largest employers in the region.
“Outside of the whole realm of the coal mining, agriculture is one of the largest industries in the state of Illinois,” he said. Though the event is located in Benton, Browning said Farm City Days is about more than Benton or even Franklin County. It’s about making sure young people remain engaged in agriculture.
Browning said the proceeds from Farm City Days will benefit Ag in the Classroom, which he said was vital to helping kids understand better how their world works.
“The kids today think that all your food comes from the grocery store. They don’t understand that there is more to it than that,” he said. “When kids see it, they understand it,” he said of the impact of agriculture education.
Though the event began in the 1970s, Browning said this year’s celebration is the first Farm City Days in 21 years. He said the goal is to engage non-farmers — most notably children.
“If the parents come, great. But the whole idea is to get the kids excited,” he said. Browning explained that it’s becoming less and less common for young people to get involved with farming and agriculture.
“That is scary,” he said. So, Browning and his team are pulling out all the stops to “shock and awe,” the kids to create future farmers, if not just supporters of agriculture.
Farming is just as much a part of the identity of Southern Illinois as coal mines, which puts Farm City Days in league with Franklin County’s other big draw, the Old King Coal festival. Browning said both of these crossed over in his family.
“Both of my grandfathers were both coal miners and they were both farmers,” he remembered. In fact, it was a fond memory with his family that sparked his interest in reviving the festival. He said it was last October that he saw an old photo of himself as a 10-year-old with his family on the square in Benton. He remembered it was at Farm City Days.
“I remembered it being something that my family really enjoyed — it was a great memory,” Browning said.
The festivities kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday on the Benton square. Browning said he wanted to make a big statement to kick off the event. He said everyone in Southern Illinois has the common experience of being caught behind farm equipment and being at least mildly frustrated at the sudden slowdown in traffic.
Browning said even he gets miffed from time-to-time, so he decided to tackle this head on at Farm City Days.
“I understand, I’m going to work and so are they,” Browning said. So, he thought he would invite festival goers to enjoy the experience of seeing tractors and combines on the street.
“You don’t have to sit behind them, you can just sit and watch them,” he said.