8 Things My Kids Learned at Discovery Park of America

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Visitors explore the new permanent exhibit called AgriCulture: Innovating for Our Survival which is now open in Simmons Bank Ag Center the at Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee. ©Journal Communications/Jeff Adkin

Photo credit: Jeff Adkins

If it’s been a while since you visited Union City’s Discovery Park of America, or if you’ve never been at all, you’re in for a treat. Opened in 2013, this West Tennessee indoor/outdoor heritage park spans 50 acres and is a treasure trove of interesting artifacts, military vehicles, hands-on experiments, planes, trains, space memorabilia, live aquatic creatures, Native American relics, toddler-friendly play areas and more.

As if it wasn’t cool enough already, Discovery Park of America unveiled a new exhibit in December 2020 called “AgriCulture: Innovating for Our Survival” that tells the important (and little-known) story of how agriculture has shaped our nation’s history and culture. The $1 million mind-blowing, myth-busting exhibit was funded through donations from companies and individuals who are passionate about agriculture.

See more: 8 Tennessee Children’s Museums You Should Visit

“We want our guests who tour the exhibit to walk away with a better understanding of how food, fuel and fiber get from the farm to their family,” says Scott Williams, president and CEO of Discovery Park. “‘AgriCulture: Innovating for Our Survival’ tells the story of farming innovation in the past, present and especially future in a fun, entertaining way. Visitors of all ages gain an understanding of the role technological, scientific and genetic innovation in agriculture plays in society and culture around the world.”

Discovery Park of America

Photo credit: Jeff Adkins

Discovery Park or Bust

I’m a writer from Nashville, and the last time our family visited Discovery Park of America was in 2015, so we were thrilled to return in 2020 to see what’s new. My husband and I packed up our three children – Bryce (12), Brett (11) and Brielle (3.5) – and made the three-hour drive to Union City on a Sunday afternoon so we could enjoy a full day at the park on Monday. (Word of advice: You need at least one full day to see everything Discovery Park offers.)

We got a sneak peek of the new AgriCulture exhibit a couple weeks before it opened. You’ll find the new ag exhibit housed in the park’s bright red, 8,900-square-foot Simmons Bank Ag Center. Look for the cotton field out front, and stop to let the kids touch the soft cotton on your way in. Kids will also love watching the colony of live bees at work inside – ask them if they can find the queen.

Scroll through the slideshow for eight things my kids learned at Discovery Park of America:

Faces of Farming exhibit at Discovery Park of America

Photo credit: Jeff Adkins

1. Agriculture has many faces.

Gone is the stereotypical image of a middle-aged male farmer clad in overalls and perched atop a tractor. Discovery Park’s new eye-opening ag exhibit dispels the myth that farmers spend their days chewing straw and toting a garden hoe; in reality, modern farmers are highly skilled, well-educated and technology-minded.

“Our research showed us that because so few people have met a farmer in person, the stereotype of an older, male, Caucasian in overalls was all they knew. Old MacDonald was the only farmer they could identify,” Williams says. “Of course, that isn’t the case, so the exhibit spotlights men and women working in agriculture today. We traveled across the region to farm shows and any place those who work in agriculture were gathered and collected portraits of more than 250 individuals who work in agriculture. Their faces have been incorporated into the exhibit, as have some details on their careers.”

2. Earthquakes can happen in Tennessee.

Enter Discovery Park’s earthquake simulator to experience what it was like for local residents when the New Madrid Fault earthquakes shook West Tennessee in 1811 and 1812. Hold on to the handrails to keep your balance. “I never knew there had ever been an earthquake in Tennessee,” says Brett, 11. “It was cool to watch the video about how it happened and how it changed the land. It got really loud when the floor shook.”

Discovery Park of America

Photo credit: Jeff Adkins

3. A real-life Sleeping Beauty once resided in Tennessee.

In the outdoor area called the Settlement, you can meander through a collection of hand-hewn log buildings, including farmhouses, a tool barn, smokehouse and doctor’s cabin. Inside the one-room Sleeping Beauty Cabin, you’ll discover the true story of Obion County resident Susan Godsey, who suffered from a mysterious illness that caused her to sleep an average of 23 hours each day. Godsey lived from around 1836 to 1873.

4. Our clothes originate on a farm.

If you stopped to touch the cotton growing outside the new AgriCulture exhibit, you’ll discover how cotton’s journey to becoming clothing comes full circle in the Loom House. The one-room cabin (also located in the Settlement) houses a 19th-century loom and spinning wheel weavers used to produce textiles and clothing during the Industrial Revolution.

museum

Photo credit: Jeff Adkins

5. Amber allows scientists to study animals and plants from prehistoric times.

Get a close-up view of three pieces of real amber, or fossilized tree resin, containing trapped and preserved insects, amid the scientifically correct dinosaur fossil reproductions in Dinosaur Hall.

“Dinosaur Hall was my favorite area,” says Bryce, 12, who is our Jurassic Park fan. “It felt amazing to stand under all the life-size dinosaur replicas, and then to see the real Mosasaur skeleton and real Hadrosaur eggs.”

6. The electric chair was used in the United States until the mid-1980s.

In the dungeon-like cell called the Chamber, you’ll see an old electric chair, which was introduced in the late 1800s as an alternative (and more humane) method of execution than hangings or firing squads. I got chills looking at the Chamber’s reproductions of torture devices from the Middle Ages, including the brazen bull, the rack and the breaking wheel. My tween boys enjoyed this somewhat disturbing room. “It was neat to see how people were punished around the world centuries ago,” Brett says.

museum

Photo credit: Jeff Adkins

7. You can see (and pretend to launch) a fully restored Titan I Missile at STEM Landing.

Donated to Discovery Park by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Titan I Missile was brought to the park in 2016 from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Kids will enjoy pushing a button that activates sounds replicating a missile launch.

8. S. military veterans are true heroes.

It’s hard not to feel a deep sense of patriotism when exploring the Military Gallery, which contains military vehicles, weapons and displays about the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War and current conflicts. “I didn’t know there were booby traps in Vietnam,” Brett reflected thoughtfully while watching a video presentation in the War Remembrance Theater. The theater provides cozy seating and videos of local veterans sharing first-hand wartime stories about their service in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Discovery Park of America

Photo credit: Jeffrey S. Otto

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