In my mind Decatur and New Orleans may always be linked, which I'm sure sounds odd. But 10 years ago this month on Aug. 29 Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast while up in the Midwest those of us associated with the Farm Progress Show were preoccupied with something entirely different.
Aug. 29 was a Monday, the day before our first year at what would become the first of our two permanent biennial sites - Progress City, Decatur, Ill. Of course, when you're about to start a big farm show there's a lot on your mind, not the least of which is the weather. Even now, I'm already checking the 10-day and hanging on every word Greg Soulje says (if you tell him I said that I'll deny it) regarding weather as the Farm Progress Show approaches.
Back then it was the same. We knew we had a shiny new site with paved streets, good drainage and great parking, yet we always worry about rain. We were lucky compared to those families in the Gulf.
I'm sure many of you reading this have seen and heard the many retrospectives showing up on TV and the radio. For me, the storm was a distant worry, though by its size we were concerned it would run up the Mississippi River Valley and cause us a headache in Decatur. We were wrong, the giant storm petered out and we didn't get rain during the show.
But a few other things did happen, and for me there are lasting memories during after the show.
First, I go to the farm show site very early each morning and back then when the Web was still a pretty new thing, I had better Internet access on the show site than I did at my hotel. So I like to get to the show early, get parked and get on the grounds.
On Tuesday morning, the show's opening day, as I drove to the site I saw gas prices and thought, I better fill up. On the way back after the show closed on Tuesday gas had risen more than $1 a gallon due to the news that a lot of offshore rigs has been damaged by Katrina. That was the first time a distant national event had impacted me in such a personal way - don't we all care about gas prices?
Sometimes when you're on the show grounds you're kind of out of touch with the national news. But I listen to the radio on the way in and out of the show site and I was getting a sense that what happened in the Gulf was bigger than anything anyone imagined. It was startling to hear the news.
We had a superb opening year in Decatur, and Progress City has been a great place to attend a farm show ever since. We're celebrating our 10th year there this year with our 6th show on the site, we've expanded the site and we're very excited about what you'll be able to see at the show. Expect to see a lot of new products, even with soft ag incomes, innovation doesn't always wait on the economy.
Second, I have a history of occasionally doing mission work. I've been to Haiti three times and done some domestic work. Turned out in 2005 and early 2006 political turmoil in Haiti stopped our core church group from going to that poor island nation to do the usual work. So our leaders of that group decided the best place to go was the Gulf Coast.
This is when a national event really hits home. When I see the devastation now on television, I am still shocked. We were there five months after the hurricane, in the Gulfport, Miss. area and were shocked at how bad things still were. We worked with a church in Ocean Springs, Miss. and stayed on their property in Russian army tents donated by, who else, the Russians.
That was an amazing time. We cleared a lot of debris - still. We cleaned walls, sanitized mold, and in the few days we were there made a small dent in a big problem.
So I celebrate 10 years in Decatur, Ill., a great place for a big farm show (now bigger than ever). I look forward to my trip there next week. But as we drive there Sunday, I'll also be thinking about Katrina a little bit. The storm that showed us that we have a bad side (the Super Dome debacle); and a great side, thousands of people lucky enough to work in Mission in the region to help rebuild and hopefully start on the road to making it better than it was.
I hope to see you next week in Decatur.