DES MOINES - The fall football season kicked off a little early this year when the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation offered free "America Needs Farmers" T-shirts to the first 100 people who stopped by Farm Bureau Park each day of the 2011 Iowa State Fair.
The ANF gear quickly became one of the most coveted items around.
"People really wanted those shirts," said Polly Rinehart, who farms near Boone and volunteered at Farm Bureau Park, where visitors could play an ag trivia "tailgate toss" game to win ANF magnets, koozies and miniature plastic footballs. "The ANF campaign is great, because it is helping the non-farm public learn more about the importance of agriculture."
-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Iowa State Fair visitors including Seth Pals, 19, left, from Orient, played a trivia game with Carroll County Farm Bureau member Rick Schultes, from Templeton, to learn more about Iowa agriculture and win prizes with the America Needs Farmers logo.
The IFBF and the University of Iowa Athletics Department are collaborating on efforts to help consumers understand the immense opportunities and challenges today's farmers embrace, and they are doing so under the ANF banner. This initiative was first undertaken in 1985 by former UI football coach Hayden Fry during the Farm Crisis and has been embraced by current Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz.
"We are honored for the opportunity to work with the Iowa Farm Bureau to help tell this important story," Ferentz said. "What Hayden said is as true today as it was 26 years ago: Iowa and America does need its farmers."
It's important to start the conversation about agriculture and understand what it means to feed a growing world population, especially since more Americans than ever before are two, three and four generations from the farm, said IFBF President Craig Lang, a fifth-generation dairy farmer from Brooklyn.
"Farming has changed a lot since 1985. The seeds we plant and the equipment we use has changed, but so has the need for food and energy," said Lang, who said he never dreamed that IFBF volunteers would distribute their 100 free ANF T-shirts in less than 15 minutes each day of the fair. "Much of the nation's innovation in renewable energy, medicine, building materials and diagnostic tools come from what we grow. Our goal remains unchanged - making sure consumers have safe, wholesome food choices at the grocery store."
Remembering the '80s
The ANF campaign will help showcase the miracles of modern agriculture to a national audience this fall. UI Athletics Department has designated its prime-time Big Ten Conference home game on Oct. 15 against Northwestern as "ANF Day at Kinnick."
The game, which will be televised on ESPN, will celebrate Iowa's and America's farmers, said Lang, who noted that the university expects ANF Day to become an annual event.
Some people have asked why the IFBF didn't partner with Iowa State University on the ANF campaign. It's because ISU didn't establish the ANF brand in the beginning, Lang said.
Fry introduced "America Needs Farmers" when his unbeaten and No. 1 ranked 1985 football team traveled to Ohio State for a nationally-televised game against the Buckeyes.
Iowa took the field that day with a yellow circle with the letters "ANF" affixed to the right side of their helmets, immediately above the Tigerhawk logo.
It was a topic of national conversation for the remainder of the season - a season that ended for the Hawkeyes in Pasadena, Calif., as the Big Ten Conference's representative at the 1986 Rose Bowl.
"I was one of the luckiest young men in the world to be raised on a farm until 10 or 11 years of age, and a lot of the things I learned on the farm I applied in coaching football," Fry said. "In the 1980s, the economic development of the farmer was going downhill, however, and by 1985, it was tragic closing down farms, people hurting."
Fry had recruited quite a few farm boys on his football team, and spoke highly of these well-disciplined, strong players, who he described as "the salt of the Earth." "I came up with the idea that America needs to know that the farmers need help. So I came up with the ANF decal - American Needs Farmers - and it was amazing the great response we got, not only in Iowa, but across the nation."
For farmers like the Rineharts of Boone, the 1980s farm crisis marked a critical turning point.
"When ANF started in 1985, we needed to diversify our farm income and began growing vegetables," said Greg Rinehart, who noted that nearly one-fourth of the income from his 900-acre farm, which includes corn and soybeans, now comes from fruits and vegetables. "We sell at local farmers markets from Boone to Des Moines, and this gives us an opportunity to meet consumers and help educate them about how safe our food supply is."
A proud legacy
The new ANF campaign is helping share farmers' stories with even more consumers. In recognition of Fry's leadership position in support of America's farmers, the UI will designate the space between the west grandstand and the north grandstand of historic Kinnick Stadium "ANF Plaza." The UI Athletics Department will also create an ANF Wall of Fame inside ANF Plaza. The Wall of Fame will honor student-athletes at the UI in the sport of football who exemplify the tenacity, work ethic and character of the American farmer.
"I have always believed in embracing all the good things that Coach Fry built into the program, and ANF was one of his greatest," Ferentz said. "There is so much to be proud of in Iowa, and our prominent position in agriculture is one of them. It's important to keep that going, because agriculture is a part of the fabric of who we are as Iowans."
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by email at firstname.lastname@example.org