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Farm Pavilion: New ag education building ready at Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Aug 7th, 2019 | Category: Features

Next phase includes 10,000 square foot Farming For Life! exhibit

by Sarah Eden Wallace

Thanks to a $4.6 million community fundraising effort, a big, bright agricultural education building called the Farm Pavilion will welcome the public to the 2019 Northwest Washington Fair.

At 24,000 square feet, it replaces the old 4-H and exhibits buildings. Designed with barn-style gables and ceilings vaulted with Douglas Fir beams, it takes a sizable stance on Front Street in Lynden. As fair manager Jim Baron sees it, that proud presence proclaims that farming – which makes up 20 percent of the local economy – plays a vital role in Whatcom County.

Construction of the new Farm Pavilion was completed in time for this year’s Fair, with a ribbon cutting held in July. Photos by Sarah Eden Wallace/Blue Ribbon Stories

Construction of the new Farm Pavilion was completed in time for this year’s Fair, with a ribbon cutting held in July. Photos by Sarah Eden Wallace/Blue Ribbon Stories

Economic impact is just part of the important information the Pavilion’s exhibits will convey, said raspberry farmer Brad Rader, a lead booster of this Northwest Washington Fair Foundation “barn-raising” project. But, for him, it goes beyond statistics. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony in July, he admitted he was “pretty emotional … knowing how many hands were involved in this.”

The building realizes long-held dreams for local ag advocates. Dairy farmer Cheryl DeHaan, who has shepherded the original Farming for Life! exhibits since they debuted in 2002, explained “from day one” a year-round facility had been envisioned to extend the educational effort well beyond fair week.


Importance for agriculture 

Visibility is vital to educate the public in light of challenges agriculture faces, Rader shared. “We risk losing a great part of our agriculture, especially our higher-labor crops, to offshore.”FarmPavilion 7-19-14

Rader explained that fair board president “Nate Kleindel and I come from the background of the agricultural field. This fair is all about that. … We want to tell that story, teach younger generations about where their food comes from.” He sees the Pavilion as a regional resource, engaging visitors from Tacoma to Tsawwassen to sustain agricultural viability in Washington state.

The building’s design fuses that focus with the fair’s 109-year heritage, according to architect Peter Carletti of Carletti Architects. “There’s a rich vernacular history of agricultural-style buildings at the fair. We tried to focus on those key elements: the gables, cupolas, shed roofs, board-and-batten siding.” Like any endeavor at the fair, there’s forethought for future generations. Carletti explained the building features “maintenance-free siding using metal wall panels. We’re giving them a facility that will last the next 100 years.”

Despite construction delays due to an unusually snowy February, the building was finished a few weeks before the fair, Baron said.

State funding provided $1.8 million, plus a $250,000 grant for agricultural education. More than 50 businesses, organizations and individuals donated more than $4 million, Baron noted.

Future plans 

The next $2.8 million phase will fill the building with interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages, said assistant fair manager Chris Pickering. A 10,000-square-foot Farming for Life! exhibit will be designed by New York-based designer David Lackey, who worked on projects for Epcot and the National September 11 Memorial.

Along with agritainment, there will be serious science happening in the building. A Washington State University satellite office will be an anchor tenant, with observation windows for the public to see researchers, scientists and farmers at work.

In addition, the Washington Red Raspberry Commission has endowed a plant-breeding professorship at WSU for $1.5 million over seven years, according to executive director Henry Bierlink. The position will be relocated to Whatcom and Skagit counties from Puyallup, where it was established about 70 years ago, he explained. (Raspberries are no longer grown in Puyallup.) “We’ll have all the research for ag here,” Bierlink said. “It’s for the whole community.”

Food and family

Pickering is especially enthused about a future food-lab area, a teaching kitchen designed with a local chef where people can test out new food products from local commodities. “The public can learn to cook and use the local ingredients we’re so lucky to have in the area,” he said.

Until the exhibits come on line next year, there’s plenty to enjoy during this year’s fair. An interim display will give visitors a taste of the future exhibits.

This year, all 4-H still life, art, flowers and quilts plus all the agricultural exhibits from below the grandstand will be displayed in the Farm Pavilion, Baron said. Arts and crafts, photography and open-class art will shift into the grandstand area.

Peggy Deem, superintendent of hobbies, Legos, photography and art at the fair, is thrilled that display room is doubled. In some cases, people can submit twice as many entries. She said it will make it easier – “especially for grandparents” – to find open-class and 4-H agriculture exhibits together.

Baron shared some visitors may be dismayed to see a few ailing trees were taken out during construction. New ones have been planted, and they’ll be growing alongside an agriculture education center putting down roots of its own to preserve agriculture in Washington state.

 Exhibit details

Fair manager Jim Baron detailed features in the Farm Pavilion that will be built once funding is completed:

• Small orientation theater with a video on local farm history, science and innovation

• “Surroundtheater” with multimedia depictions of a day in the life of a farmer

• Play area for kids demonstrating the farm-to-table experience

Story pods throughout with local farmers talking about a day in their life

• “Wonder Wall” featuring artifacts from the fair and historical items like antique milking machines

• Signature Gallery with changeable seasonal exhibits

• Two classroom presentation rooms

• Demo kitchen lab

Sarah Eden Wallace is the author of “100 Years at the Northwest Washington Fair,” available at Village Books and the fair office, and writes about the fair and local farming at BlueRibbonStories.com: Harvesting Whatcom County Fair, Farm and Food Heritage.

The Northwest Washington Fair runs Monday through Saturday, Aug. 12-17. For complete schedule and admission, see nwwafair.com.


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