In 1894, scientists at the University of Illinois College of Agriculture made amazing discoveries to improve agriculture.
Unfortunately, there were few college enrollments, so this information was not passed on to the farms.
There were no social media or online news publications that could quickly get this information to people.
In order for farmers to learn more from each other and from those who conduct research, Charles F. Mills, secretary of the Illinois State Board of Agriculture, proposed establishing the Illinois Farmer’s Institute.
These institute meetings would bring together farmers and researchers. This would allow farmers to share the knowledge they have gained from working with each other and with researchers and for these researchers to share how the results of their experiments could improve agricultural productivity.
These institutes had two different formats.
The first was local county meetings. These meetings were held in different counties in Illinois. These were either informal meetings where people got together and talked about what they were working on, or a guest speaker with some time for discussion afterwards.
Due to the popularity of these meetings, annual rallies were held at the University of Illinois that would attract people from all parts of the state, beginning in 1910.
The format of these annual meetings usually consisted of several conferences during the day, with time for questions and answers in small groups.
For lunch, participants received elaborate meals that were prepared by faculty and students in the home economics program.
In the evening there would be entertainment, more educational programs and programs for children.
There were a variety of subjects at these institutes. There were conversations about testing soil samples, ways to improve soil for greater crop yield, managing winter vegetable supplies, and the impact of weather on plant growth. .
There were also animal-oriented topics such as dairy management, livestock feeding, and farm-raised poultry products.
Trade and money management was another topic, which focused on agricultural finance, the state of world trade, and legislative barriers affecting farmers.
As these institutes continued to grow and gain popularity, they also began to inspire new government programs.
These included the establishment of the National Soil Survey and the construction of rural roads for better transportation.
The Illinois Farmer’s Institute was a great collaboration between researchers and farmers that helped spread knowledge across the state and provided feedback between farmers and researchers to find better farming techniques.
The Illinois Distributed Museum offers online content about University of Illinois innovations as well as self-guided campus tours where you can see artifacts and buildings related to those innovations.
The Illinois Distributed Museum is a project under the direction of the University of Illinois Archives. See more at distributedmuseum.illinois.edu.
Kristen Wilson is the Illinois Distributed Museum Coordinator at the University of Illinois Archives in the UI Library. She can be contacted at [email protected]