For first-timers and old-timers alike, Pa. Farm Show is the place to be

Visitors walk the rows of cattle at the Pennsylvania Farm Show on Thursday, January 15, 2015.
Visitors walk the rows of cattle at the Pennsylvania Farm Show on Thursday, January 15, 2015. CDT photo

It’s an odd odor that hits you when you walk into the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex.

It’s the smell of several thousand farm animals and several hundred different foods, plants and exhibits.

But beyond the smell, there’s a sense of excitement and competition. Farmers, hobbyists and youth from across the state bring the best of their best for judging — from livestock to canned goods to photographs.

For some, like Josh Cox, it’s a first-time experience. Cox, 27, took his 13 dairy goats from Centre Hall to be judged.

Typically, Cox said, he participates in shows in Centre Hall, Bloomsburg and New Jersey, but was encouraged by friends to take part in the farm show.

He got started with goats during his time with 4H, he said, and has been keeping them since he was in high school. Now, for him and his wife, Lennie Rae Vangorder, keeping goats is more of an “expensive hobby.”

Eleven-year-old Jordan Anderson, of Centre Hall, had some first-time jitters leading up to Friday’s dairy cow show.

Her cows, Fantastic and Sarah, both about a year old, had already been trimmed and were resting in a bed of hay. Anderson said she would miss three days of school to take part in the show.

She said she was nervous “in a way, because it’s my first time showing at the farm show. But at the same time, I’ve done shows before and I’m getting used to it.”

She said she’s been showing through 4H for about three years now, and said it’s a great way to meet people and have fun.

Each day, she said, the cows must be cleaned and fed, and their bedding will be changed and generally kept comfortable.

But the farm show is not all about first-timers. On the other side of the fence from Anderson sat Harold Harpster with his 10 dairy cows from Boalsburg.

Harpster, a 55-year veteran of the farm show, originally began showing sheep. He’s since taken many ribbons, including champion titles in 2009 and 2014.

He noted how much the show has changed over the decades, from large-scale changes like the building itself to the little things, such as how the fencing used to be made of wood. And he noted a lack of understanding.

“Now there’s no concept at all. People don’t know anything about the farm,” he said. “You might think I’m far-fetched, but it’s the truth.”

The farm show is about more than just livestock. Education is a major part of show, and Penn State’s agriculture departments have a large presence at the show.

Olivia Francois, 23, a Penn State graduate student, said work at the university is very closely tied to the agriculture industry. Penn State is working closely with organizations like Future Farmers of America and 4H to show teens and young people that their hobbies in those organizations can translate to degrees from the university.

“Penn State has impact all over the place,” she said. “We’re just showing what people can do in higher education.”

Francois attended last year and was excited to return.

“I love the farm show,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”

Even U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard, took time out of his week to attend the show. The 5th Congressional District representative was walking the floor with several fellow representatives, some from as far away as Nevada, showing off what Pennsylvania had to offer.

Thompson said it’s important to know where your food and building materials come from, and the farm show is the place to reconnect people to farms and those generations removed.

“It’s a great farm show this year,” he said. “I come every year. It’s a great place to bring the family.”