Grit Blogs >

Life in the Fast Lane

Farm Show Family Traditions

Andrew WeidmanSheep in Wool Clothing-Media

My son, Thom, and I took a trip to the Pennsylvania Farm Show last week — a family tradition, and one that is inevitably changing, as it always has. Last year, all three of my boys went to the Show with me. This year, Finn had a conflicting evening class, and Izzie needed to complete a midterm project. Traditions change, I understand that, and one day my sons will likely take their children to the Farm Show, just as my dad took me.

Family Time II

The Farm Show our Big Event for January. How big? Big, and not just for us. This is Pennsylvania’s unofficial State Fair, the result of all the county fairs of the past year and held in Harrisburg, the state capitol. Imagine 23 acres of "fair" under one roof. The Farm Show is the largest and oldest indoor agricultural show in America — 101 shows to date.

Carousel

Nearly half a million people come to the show each year, and many of them are farmers. Many, however, are not. For them, this may be the first time they see where their food actually comes from. Thom and I overheard someone excitedly talking about a sow and piglets on display. Thom couldn’t help but chuckle at the wonder in their voices. All I could say was, "You have to remember, that’s the first time they’ve ever seen a living, breathing pork chop." It’s true; when your chops come from the supermarket, a live hog is something to see.

At the Sculpture

Speaking of food, Farm Show food is not to be missed. True to the Show’s mission — yet surprising in today’s global economy — from the pizzas and chicken potpies to maple syrup cotton candy and baked russet potatoes, all of the food served comes from Pennsylvania. All of it. There’s no way to sample everything in just one trip. Most years we get the potato donuts and apple cider. This year, we split a blooming onion and pulled pork nachos, with milkshakes for dessert.

Horse Pull

I can’t describe the entire Farm Show in one blog post, so I won’t try. Between livestock-like dairy and beef cattle, goats, chickens, draft horses, rabbits, ducks, and alpacas; events like truck-and-tractor pulls, square dancing, rodeos, and sheep-to-shawl competitions; and youth projects like photography, sewing, rocketry, and small animal husbandry; you’ll tire of reading the list long before I even reach the middle. These photos are just a small taste of all you can see if you visit.

Bee Amazed

These family traditions help us stay connected to each other and to our heritage. I grew up on a working farm; my sons did not. Thanks to things like the Farm Show and county fair, they still know where food really comes from.

Crowds

The funny thing about family traditions is that they change; it can’t be helped. Once I moved out on my own, I no longer went to the Farm Show with Dad; instead I went on my own or with friends. As always, life had a way of getting in the way. When the boys were little, I started taking them whenever work and weather allowed. Now they are growing up; two are in college, the third in high school, and their schedules cause conflict as often as mine does. I don’t foresee too many more father-son Farm Show trips to come, and that’s as it should be. I only hope that when their time comes, they continue to take their children to see "living, breathing pork chops."

Hand in Hand

Going Native, Part II

Andrew WeidmanPawpaw

There’s no denying that winter has come. Maybe not a full-blown, years-long, Westeros Winter, but winter nonetheless. There’s snow on the ground — ground which has frozen, I might add. Birds busily flock to the feeder outside the window and the suet block nearby. Canada geese are on the move, the resident geese restless and eager to join their migrant brethren as they travel south.

Snow

This time of year can be difficult for gardeners. There’s no sun-warmed soil to run between your fingers, no ripe tomatoes to pluck, no roses to smell. Even a patch of weeds needing pulling would be welcomed right about now.

Sure, seed catalogs have been rolling in, and who doesn’t enjoy the green thumb version of Fantasy Football? Nosing through the pages, writing lists of seeds for all the new, exciting vegetables you want to try next year, dreaming of how lush and glorious 2017’s garden will be ... The only problem with that fix is that it really only makes the ‘green fever’ itch that much worse.

Where am I going with this?

You may remember that last October I posted a blog entry about Pawpaws (Going Native) and the decision to add two to our mini orchard. A friend of mine mentioned last week that the time to pot up pawpaw seeds was fast approaching. That reminded me of the bag of seeds I had stored in peat moss last fall. Hurrah! Here was a chance to do something productive involving potting mix and seeds!

Seeds

Pawpaws have ridiculously long taproots, and I’m told they can stretch their roots downward at least a foot before they ever poke their heads above the soil line. Most instructions tell you to store the seeds in the fridge over winter and then plant them in the ground. And wait. And pray. And forget where you planted them. And try not to mow the seedlings over when they finally emerge in July.

As I reported in the original post, pawpaws do sprout in storage, sometimes before winter ends. I don’t like taking chances, and the thought of overlong taproots in a ziplock bag combined with forgotten seedlings being pulled for weeds by mistake turned me towards starting them in pots. Many growers I know use two-liter soda bottles as pots — tops cut off and holes punched in the bottom for drainage. We don’t drink soda, so bottles are scarce, but I did happen to have two Deeproot pots, pots actually designed for the job, 18 inches tall and 4 inches square. Imagine that! I had the right tool, not a work-around tool. When does that happen?

Deeproot

This morning, I spent a pleasant half-hour filling a pot almost to the top with potting mix, positioning four of my nine seeds in the top, and covering them with an inch of mix. I saved the rest of the seeds to plant next month as insurance in case the first four didn’t spend long enough in the fridge. One source recommends four months of cold stratification, and my math is only giving me three and a half, so I'm hedging my bets again.

Now, back to waiting for spring.

Waiting

The Best Laid Plans ...

Andrew WeidmanTobacco Rig

I wonder how many New Year’s Resolutions begin as great ideas that almost work out. I’m guessing at least as many as the resolutions that don’t make it 12 days, let alone 12 months. Resolutions are a lot easier to make than to keep; I think most people can attest to that.

Leafy Bridge

For years, I kept one resolution. Only one, and one that I renewed from year to year. I must have kept that resolution going for 15 years. By now, I’m sure you want to know what could be so important a resolution that it could last a decade and a half. It’s not what you think. For 15 years, I resolved not to make any New Year’s Resolutions. Yeah, I know, it’s a cheat. But I kept it.

In The Mists

Two years ago, I tried something else: monthly goals. Each month, I selected one or two goals to work towards in the next four weeks. These were simple things, small goals like writing a page a day in a notebook or skipping that second cup of coffee each morning. Goals seemed more concrete, more attainable, more accessible. The proof was in the pudding, as they say. I kept those goals up for about 14 months. That’s right, the goals lasted into last year — not too bad.

Ricketts Glen

This year, I’m trying a hybrid of a resolution and a goal. I resolve to take at least five pictures each week in 2017. I have two reasons for that. First, I want to explore my camera more. It’s a digital SLR with lots of features for shooting great photographs, features I haven’t explored for far too long. I even bought a copy of the Dummy’s Guide to my particular camera model.

Tall Ship

Second, I had a great idea for an end-of-year review: I wanted to share twelve pictures I had taken in 2016, one for each month. That’s the idea that almost worked out. I had some great shots, at least in my estimation. There was the long exposure of a waterfall at Ricketts Glen State Park, and the bald eagle that flew over my car as I drove home from work one day. Another time, I snapped a shot of an Amish family planting tobacco. One morning, Canada geese swam across a cold March pond as mists rose from the waters, a maple blooming on the far shore. There were others, which I’m sharing here. I’m sure you’d rather see them than read about them.

Egret

Goose at Dawn

What I didn’t have was twelve photos, one for each month; my photo shoots happened in clusters; they just were not evenly spread across the calendar.

Bald Eagle

But this won't happen next year, not if I keep my resolution and make my goal. We’ll see what I can share in December 2017. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the photos from 2016.

Father Christmas