Don Harter expects to see a mix of penny loafers and sports jackets with work boots and overalls during the Fort Wayne Farm Show.
The Auburn businessman is co-owner of Harmony Outdoor Equipment and sells agricultural machinery to growers, but he has noticed a rise in white-collar farmers. These are working professionals who ditch their cubicles to dig the earth.
They’re folks who may have two to five acres they want to work, Harter said. They’re becoming my biggest customers because other ag stores don’t take them seriously. These are highly intelligent people who don’t want to be disrespected because of their lack of (farming) knowledge.
They will help make up the more than 30,000 people expected to frequent the 25th annual three-day agricultural expo at Memorial Coliseum starting Tuesday. Allen County tourism officials say the event contributes about $2 million to the local economy.
Harter says the event will continue to grow as it attracts individuals with farming backgrounds yearning to reconnect with their past.
Some people have grown up around farming, yet don’t own a farm themselves, but do have a few acres they can use, he said. When it’s planting season, the ag stores are interested in the big farms and don’t have time for these people. We do. We offer them a relaxed atmosphere.
Harmony Outdoor Equipment regularly sells tractors costing $15,000 to $30,000 to those some would call novice growers.
We treat them the same as the big producers, said Harter, who’ll have inventory on display at the farm expo. They appreciate that.
Don Villwock, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, said there is a correlation between white-collar farmers and the continued rise of organically grown crops.
Oh yes, definitely, he said. It’s one of the biggest growing sectors in agriculture.
U.S. sales of organic food are expected to surpass $30 billion in 2013, up from $29 billion a year earlier, according to the Organic Trade Association.
People want to grow their own food, Villwock said. That’s a good thing.
Some backyard farmers gain a respect for commercial farms after experiencing setbacks in their own fields, he said.
They find out that it’s not easy, Villwock said. I knew a guy who got his baptism after coyotes went after chickens he was trying to raise. He had to put up a building to protect them, but he started to understand why (big farms) keep chickens inside.
Farm show officials also want to keep agriculture enthusiasts inside – the Coliseum, that is.
Fred Cline organizes the Fort Wayne Farm Show, which is run by Tradexpos Inc. of Austin, Minn. He praises the Summit City as his biggest show.
Although the first farm exhibition in Fort Wayne took place in 1990, Cline counts the previous year as the beginning because Tradexpos was immersed in planning and securing vendors at that time. The inaugural three-day ag showcase had 127 exhibitors and about 9,000 visitors.
We didn’t fill the (Coliseum), he said. Now look at us.
The farm show occupies about 90 percent of the more than 211,700-square-foot Coliseum. Cline said one of the reasons for Fort Wayne’s success is that the area benefits from bordering Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky.
That helps a lot, he said.