With temperatures stuck below freezing this winter, Decatur, Illinois residents were happy to give a warm welcome to the Children’s Museum of Illinois’ latest exhibit, “Seed to Shelf”, a series of play areas that illustrate the path that food – grown and raised locally in Decatur – takes before arriving on their dinner table.
The 2,500 sq. foot exhibit was designed by a team led by Tom Kraemer, principal at Kraemer Design + Production of Cincinnati, OH, and assisted by designers John Apanites and Bill Zimmerman. The exhibit was designed for children from toddlers to pre-teens and features five interactive areas, beginning with a crop and garden area ‘planted’ with corn, peppers, tomatoes, and cabbage – all crops commonly grown in Decatur. The vegetables are attached to stalks and stems with Velcro® strips so that harvesting is easy even for the youngest participants.
Next to the planting area is a pick-up truck loaded with wooden crates so guests can transport their produce to the local fresh market where the vegetables are loaded into produce bins. In the produce market (named for local proprietor Johnston’s Market), visitors select groceries and pay at two stations that have overhead aisle lights that can be flicked on when the stations are open for business. The station’s cash registers have interactive buttons and bar code scanners that light up.
In the barn area, children play with cow and pig wall-mounted puzzles; each illustrates where various cuts of meat originate on an animal before appearing on many dinner tables. Another popular barn interactive is the custom play table that tells the story of how food is transported. Children move trains, boats, trucks and tractors along tracks, waterways, and roads; the accompanying landscape graphics feature recognizable Decatur landmarks, like the Archer Daniels Midwest Inland Port (one of the exhibit’s sponsors).
Finally, a small area reserved for toddlers is set off by a white picket fence; it features a Plinko game where children drop eggs into slots and watch them drop down into nests. The area has rocking lambs and cows and a busy board where toddlers sit or stand to interact with mini farmers, animals, and movable parts like rotating tractor wheels. The area also has an interactive ‘touch and feel’ texture board.
What’s most notable about the exhibit said Jean Burch, Chicago Scenic’s project manager who oversaw the project, is that there aren’t any electronic screens in the exhibit, and no one seems to notice. “The exhibit gives so many options for open-ended play – kids can plant, pick, pack, and ship food – that they are busy creating their own enjoyment,” Jean said. “It’s a popular area and fun to watch the kids play.”
Chicago Scenic worked closely with Museum Executive Director Nicole Bateman and Guest Services Coordinator Katie Van Metre throughout the project.