The NCSL Blog


By Jessica Brehm

pennsylvania farm show butter sculptureWhen it comes to the most popular New Year’s resolutions, eating better always tops the list. But in my home state, the diet can't start until the end of the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Pennsylvanians have long looked forward to January because we know the Farm Show, held this year from Jan. 5-12 in the state capital of Harrisburg, brings good food, a slew of animals and plenty of entertainment. But it’s way more than that.

In its 103rd year, the nation's largest indoor agricultural exposition under one roof features nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits. Organized in 1916 by Agriculture Secretary Charles Patton to bring trade associations, businesses and farmers together to share ideas and information on agriculture and economic trends, it’s a showcase of the state’s agriculture industry.

Representative Dave Zimmerman milks a Jersey cow at Pennsylvania Farm ShowGrowing up, I remember always being excited for Farm Show time. My family would visit hall after hall filled with animals—from baby chicks and pigs to giant cows and horses. We’d make sure to stop by the always popular milkshake and potato doughnut stands and then do a little shopping at the local exhibitor booths. There are always scheduled events to see, too, like the rodeo, sheep to shawl contest, tractor pulls, square dancing and Future Farmers of America (FFA) competitions.

And, of course, no Farm Show trip is complete without snapping a pic with one of the state’s most famous residents, Punxsutawney Phil, who makes an annual appearance before his attention is pulled away to Groundhog Day.

Once I started working at the Pennsylvania Capitol, I realized how involved the legislators were with the Farm Show. As the web editor for the House of Representatives, I would see all the photos and videos of the legislators meeting with FFA students and scholarship winners or participating in “celebrity” cow-milking contests.

Former legislator Steve Bloom had legislation signed in 2011 to codify PA Preferred (the official branding program of agricultural commodities produced in Pennsylvania), which is a large part of the show. And, each year, one day is designated Public Officials Day (Jan. 9 in 2019), focused on strengthening the relationship between the agriculture industry and the government and encouraging communication and collaboration at the local, state and federal levels.

Agriculture is Pennsylvania’s leading economic industry and the Farm Show is extremely helpful to the state’s economy, contributing around $185 billion dollars and employing nearly half a million people each year.

Now, if that’s not reason enough to plan a trip to the show, I have two words: Butter. Sculpture. Yep, that’s a lifesize sculpture carved out of a half-ton of Land O'Lakes butter. (This year’s theme: “Find Your Power,” featuring individuals—an athlete, doctor, firefighter, etc.—wearing superhero capes.)

Milkshakes, doughnuts and 1,000 pounds of butter? That New Year’s resolution can definitely wait.

Jessica Brehm is a member of the meetings and communications staff at NCSL.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.