Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pennsylvania Farm Show

This past weekend we went to the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which fills a huge dedicated Harrisburg convention center with acres of indoor space showcasing tractors, live penned animals, displays of local produce, arenas for competitions, a large, crowded food hall, and, of course, a 12 foot sculpture made solely of butter:

Although we went to satisfy my husbands inner-farmer (he is a country boy at heart, and I am a city suburb living seems to be our compromise), I really loved the theme: Farm Gate to Dinner Plate.  There are always die-hard organic-eaters with concerns about modern farming methods, but salt of the earth Pennsylvanians are proud of their advanced methods that provide ample, affordable food.

The Pennsylvania Farm Show highlights all that our fair state has to offer agriculturally.  According to PenAg Industries Association, a Pennsylvania farmer advocacy and lobbyist group, the average PA farmer produces enough to feed 155 people, and one in seven jobs in the state is agricultural.  Pennsylvania produces maple syrup, wine, honey, squash, and is the "mushroom capitol of the world."  Here is a prize winning rabbit sculpture made entirely of mushrooms:

And here is the award winning squash.  Yeah, it was huge.

While the produce was judged by its size and perfection, and some animals were prized for their special talents -- alpacas and sheep for wool, cows for milk, chicken for eggs, and horses for strength -- most animals at the Pennsylvania Farm Show were prized for their meat. 

And no one pussy-foots around it. 

While watching the Farm Show's sheep competition (think Best in Show, but with sheep strutting around the ring instead of dogs) on Pennsylvania Cable Network, the judge casually used the word "carcass" instead of "body" when describing the desirable attributes of the live sheep. 

Despite Google's #2 definition for carcass: the trunk of an animal such as a cow, sheep, or pig, for cutting up as meat, I immediately think of the first definition: the dead body of an animal. The sheep were being judged and prized for their eventual meat, so I suppose it is the right term, even if it initially smacks as "Dead Man Walking."

Many other competitions at the Farm Show judged animals for their potential yield and deliciousness: pigs for their ham hocks, young bulls for their loins, lambs for their chops, and rabbits for their meat.  I have eaten rabbit before, and will surely again, but I'll admit it is hardest to look without compassion into the faces of these bunnies when faced with the reality that they are designated as "meat."

I, like wise Farmer Hoggett from Babe, need to remember that every animal on the farm has a purpose.  Sometimes it is a delicious purpose, and sometimes the purpose is work.  We spent a good chunk of time watching the Farm Class Horse Pull competition.  A double team of large horses (Percherons, Clydesdales, etc.) were hooked up to a metal sled filled with increasing weights of cinder blocks. The two horses weighed together upwards of 4000 lbs -- these are truly the largest horses I have ever seen, grown men could nearly walk under their flanks without ducking -- but they could pull over 9000 lbs.

It isn't just a test of strength, either.  The horses had to pull gently to start so that a tennis ball seated in a small tuna can mounted to the top of the sled didn't pop out.  The larger horses had a tougher time with their finesse when the loads were low because of their inherent power, but once they got through the first round and more weight was added, their prowess really shined.

After watching the competition and viewing the animals, it was time for lunch.  And what amazing offerings they had!!  The PA Co-Operative Potato Growers, PA Cattlemen Association, PA Mushroom Growers Co-Operative, and the PA Maple Syrup Producers Council all had booths.  I wanted fried vegetables from the PA Vegetable Growers Association booth, and my husband picked up hot dogs and a pulled pork sandwich from PennAg Industries Association. 

The lengths of the lines for milkshakes from the PA Dairymen's Association rivaled those seen at Disney World, so we opted for the equally delicious ice cream offered by PA Beekeepers Association, which was sweetened (and optionally topped) with Pennsylvania honey.  I chose Butter Pecan and topped it with a drizzle of blueberry honey.

We had a really great day looking at the animals, playing on the parked tractors, cheering on the horses, and eating local food.  It is quite a reality check when you spend the morning looking at the farm animals, and then head to the food hall to eat their brethren.  The truth behind the origins of the meat may be easier to ignore at the grocery store, but at the Farm Show, we were proud that our lunch was the product of hard working Pennsylvanians.