The Pennsylvania State Farm Show has been a January tradition in the Keystone State since 1936. Pennsylvania's version of a state fair runs for a full week at the Farm Show Complex at Cameron and Maclay streets in Harrisburg.
The weeklong event is billed as a celebration of the state's $44 billion farming industry and the roughly 50,000 families who still farm the land. It combines livestock exhibits, more than 325 commercial exhibits, competitions, entertainment and food.
Lots and lots of farm-fresh food. The Farm Show features a 27,000 square foot food court with loads of tempting treats. If you must only try a few don't miss the lamb stew, french fries, milkshakes, funnel cakes and maple sugar cotton candy1.
Admission is free. However recent years have seen a charge for parking and shuttle buses have been needed to ferry visitors from off-site parking lots to the Farm Show Complex. Traffic going to and from the show is also a bit of a nightmare so pay attention to directional signs as you enter and exit the area.
With every passing year, the Farm Show seems to grow bigger and more crowded. To that end, expansion projects are underway to increase the size of the Farm Show Complex to more than 1 million square feet.
Things To Do
It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things to see and do at the Farm Show, so here are a few things that simply should not be missed:
- Sheep-to-Shawl Contest - Usually held on a Monday and lasting about two hours, this contest starts with teams shearing their sheep, continues with carding, spinning and weaving and ends with the knitting of a completed shawl which is then sold at auction.
- Quilts - Found in upstairs along a wall of the Northeast Building in the Family Living Department, these beautiful bed coverings are works of art in their own right.
- Square Dancing - Finding a seat in the rafters of the Large Arena is the best vantage point to watch 400-some dancers in their colourful costumes swirl and twirl to the commands of the caller.
- High School Rodeo - There is something very compelling about watching high school kids ride and rope in the hopes of winning scholarship money. They may not be as good as the professionals, but in our opinion they're much more fun to watch.
- Livestock Judging - You'll need to check the schedule of events, but don't miss out on watching some of the livestock judging. We don't know what criteria the judges use to pick one cow over another, but it is fascinating to watch.
- Butter Sculpture - The annual butter sculpture holds a place of honour in its large refrigerated case in the Farm Show Complex front lobby. Up to half a ton of butter is sculpted into shapes ranging from Miss Penn2 to former President Dwight 'Ike' Eisenhower. It's not the most amazing piece of sculpture you'll ever find - until you remember that it's made entirely out of butter!
Farm Show Weather
Local weathermen like to make a big deal about the weather during the Farm Show - invariably some snow will fall during the weeklong event. But really, the weather isn't any more extreme than any other given week in January.
So as you can see, while it does tend to snow during Farm Show week it's not really that big of a deal. Just the same, remember to bring your mittens and boots.
And if the crowds and weather are too intimidating, you can always stay at home and watch many of the main events on the television. The Pennslvania Cable Network has provided live coverage of the Farm Show to its 2.9 million homes for a decade.
However we suggest that if you're able you should attend the real thing. Television simply cannot convey the sounds and smells of this huge agriculture event.