Farm Show Family Traditions

Reader Contribution by Andrew Weidman
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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