Barnyard babies, honey bee health, 50 chickens and a $150,000 check. Saturday marks the official spring opening of the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs.
The news here is that check — money from Bayer Corp.’s U.S. foundation to kick off a campaign to establish a new permanent exhibit geared toward children, science and agriculture. Design work is underway, and the opening remains two years off.
It’s part of an ongoing “reimagining” of the Bonner Springs attraction, said its director and CEO Dawn Gabel. The center had shut its doors for the 2014 season to sort out its finances and re-emerged last year.
Bayer will present the check Saturday, adding to a history of support that includes volunteers from among its 1,300 area employees who provide helping hands, leadership and service on committees. The company sees the exhibit as a way to draw children into science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to show how those STEM fields shape agriculture.
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“Bayer’s really interested in talking with our future leaders in agriculture,” said Darren Wallis, the company’s vice president of communications in North America. “This is the perfect place for that type of exhibit.”
The $150,000 check is large, the equivalent of roughly a fourth of the annual budget of the center and hall, although it is earmarked for the exhibit rather than operations. It covers a large portion but not all of the planned permanent exhibit’s expected $375,000 cost.
“We’ll have to do a little more fundraising,” Gabel said.
The ag center’s spring opening this year includes the traditional Barnyard Babies exhibit — not a petting zoo but rather “baby animals big enough to share,” Gabel said. There are 50 chickens on hand at the center, and summer will bring a day camp program that will help young students develop projects for county fairs.
On Thursday, the center reopened its art gallery, putting on display paintings and bronze sculptures that had been put away for a while. It includes works by Ernst Ulmer, a regional artist who had done themed paintings for museums such as the farm auction scene he painted for the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame.
Gabel said Saturday’s activities include educating visitors about honey bees, which play a critical role in agriculture by pollinating crops. There are working hives as well as two pollinator gardens at the center.
Bayer will have a booth focused on helping science make sense and one on pollinator health. The company has a website that promotes planting wildflowers to feed bees. Bee populations have been in decline, and Bayer is among a number of pesticide producers that some groups say are damaging bees.
“It’s far too complex (to say) that there’s a single cause,” Wallis said.
Like the work of pollinating crops, operating the agricultural attraction has been seasonal work, officially closed for the winter. Gabel said both the center and hall of fame are now open year round.
Saturday’s Barnyard Babies program runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and admission is $5, with one child admitted free with each adult admission.
The center and hall are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, and they suggest visitors make a $5 donation.
Other activities include an exhibit on climate, energy and science, the Museum of Farming with a collection of antique farm machinery, a Hatchery Museum, an 1890s farmhouse and a one-room schoolhouse.