The Pennsylvania Farm Show

Photographs by Henry Rowan

Photographs by Henry Rowan

It’s the biggest indoor agricultural event in the nation, but big doesn’t even begin to describe the Pennsylvania Farm Show.  Try massive, huge, or gargantuan and you’ll get closer to being accurate. The multi-day show takes place every year in early January and covers 24 acres in eleven buildings of the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg.

Square dancing with antique tractors is a bit odd by any standard.

Square dancing with antique tractors is a bit odd by any standard.

Over 400,000 people typically attend the Farm Show, making it arguably the largest event in the state. Compare that to the Philadelphia Flower Show, which draws between 225,000 and 245,00 people, or 22 sold out Bruce Springsteen concerts at the old Spectrum and you’ll start to get the idea of just how many people come to the show. Even with 24 acres of space, the aisles get crowded and visitors must share them with cows, horses, goats, sheep, and other assorted critters as they move to one of three arenas or other judging areas.

Cows and kids share the aisles.

Cows and kids co-mingle in the aisles.

The importance of the show to Pennsylvania’s agricultural community may not be immediately evident to many city and suburban dwellers, just as the importance of agriculture is something that is often overlooked. Beyond being the source of food on our tables, Pennsylvania’s 58,000 farms (90% of which are family owned) are the backbone of our economy with 1 in 7 jobs in the state being agriculture related. Add to that the nearly $45 billion dollars per year that production agriculture and agribusinesses contribute to our economy and you begin to get a sense of just how important farming is to the state.

Got Milk? Well, as a matter of fact, yes!
Got Milk? Well, as a matter of fact, yes!

To this large segment of the population, the Farm Show serves as a vital resource. It is part trade show, where the latest products and services are displayed. It is part educational forum, where the latest ideas are discussed. It is part social, where old friendships are renewed and new friends are made. And, finally, it is part competition and that competition is very intense.

Animals from across the state converge on Harrisburg to compete for top honors.
Animals from across the state converge on Harrisburg to compete for top honors.
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Tired of the rigors of competition? A roll in the dirt helps relieve the stress.

It seems like there is a category for just about everything and anything that fits into a category is judged, or raced, or otherwise challenged in one way or another. Chickens are judged, carriages are raced, sheep are sheared, and tractors square dance. Would you like to go to a Sticky Bun Contest? Well, have we got the place for you! It sounds like it is all in good fun, and it is, but there is also serious money (over $500,000) and bragging rights at play. In some cases, a win at the show can result in a substantial long-term return as the value of the animal or product is acknowledged.  Also at play are significant scholarships to promote advanced educational opportunities within the farming community and there are numerous activities throughout the show that generate revenue to support these efforts.

A young life pondering new life.
A young life pondering new life.

One of the highlights of the show is always the Pennsylvania Food Court. From chips and dips to sausages and everything in between there are rows of vendors showing the best the state has to offer when it comes to belly filling food. Samples are often available and it seems that many people come just to taste these delights. There are also vendors providing a variety of more substantial meals and treats and the prices tend to be lower and the quality higher than at many similar venues.

Lots of dips and chip samples are available but the free wine tasting is extremely popular for some strange reason. :)
The free wine tasting is extremely popular for some strange reason. :)

To add a bit of uniqueness to a very unique event, you will find a life-sized butter sculpture that can weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds, a 60-year-old carousel, and a full-blown rodeo. The Frontier Circuit Finals Rodeo is a separately managed, ticketed event apart from the Farm Show and we were not allowed to photograph it so we aren’t able to tell you whether it is worth the price of admission or not.

The incubator is hugely popular - and not just among the kids.
The incubator is hugely popular – and not just among the kids.

The Farm Show itself is free to visitors making it a great place to bring the family for the day. There is a charge for parking and the main lot does fill up early because of the sheer number of people who come to the show. Getting there early will not only get you a closer parking space, but you may avoid some of the traffic congestion that comes with every show. Parking info and directions are available by clicking here and, though you should expect delays in the Farm Show area, we can assure you that it will be worth the wait!

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