Our View | Opening barn doors at state Farm Show

The popularity of the annual Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair each August shows that our region appreciates the value of our agricultural heritage.

The rest of the state gets in on the party this week in Harrisburg, where the 98th Pennsylvania Farm Show kicked off Saturday.

Over eight days, the nation’s largest indoor agricultural event will draw big crowds to the Farm Show Complex, where visitors will encounter 300 commercial booths, 6,000 animals and 13,000 competitive exhibits spread over 24 acres in 11 buildings.

It’s a big deal, and admission is free.

If the weather cooperates, the farm show is worth the trip — as an educational, cultural, historical and industrial experience.

And an estimated half-million people will indeed stop by over the event’s eight days.

“In some form or another, the farm show has been going on since William Penn’s time,” event spokeswoman Nicole Bucher told the Associated Press. “I think it’s something that Pennsylvanians have a lot of pride in.”

Those making their way to the show will encounter dairy and beef cattle, draft horses, sheep and pigs, chickens and rabbits.

Pennsylvania products on display include mushrooms, wine, maple syrup, produce — even Christmas trees.

Visitors will experience square-dancing, tractors … even square-dancing on tractors, organizers said.

Farming provides 1 in 7 Pennsylvania jobs and generates $68 billion each year in economic impact. That’s a lot to celebrate.

Among the exhibitors in Harrisburg this week are several based in or tied to Centre County, including Herlocher Foods, of State College; Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences; the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, based in Millheim; the National Weather Service, in State College; and the Pa. Biomass Energy Association and the American Chestnut Foundation, both based at Penn State.

Many local farming families will be represented at the farm show as competitors, volunteers and agriculture spokespeople.

The symbol of the 2014 show, a half-ton butter sculpture, was unveiled Thursday. It commemorates the 60th anniversary of that dairy favorite, the milk-shake, featuring dancing cows.

Yes, the Pennsylvania Farm Show is fun. But it’s also a serious event that reminds us of farming’s role in our state and communities.

Many of us think food magically appears in our freezers and on our tables.

But farming is hard work, and considerable research and development go into maintaining this important economic sector.

The show — themed “Pennsylvania Farms: Growing for You” — features a full-sized barn, complete with livestock and farmers, to both show and tell this important story.

“The whole premise is opening the barn doors and letting people know exactly how their food is produced,” Bucher said.

We thank our farmers and other agriculture professionals for all that they do.

And we urge folks to make their way to the farm show this week to enjoy a milkshake, pet a cow and celebrate our state’s leading industry.