This past Sunday, with my kids in tow, I made a journey to the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
This was my first time back to the show in a number of years – my kids went each year with their maternal Grandfather – so, my preconceived notions were dated at best. When I think about “the farm show,” I think mainly about the animals and tasty (and perfectly fattening) food. And, to be sure, there were those things.
We saw the pigs and the sheep and goats. My sons giggled at the shorn sheep who still had wool on the legs, making them appear to be wearing mid 80s leg warmers before heading to aerobics class. They LOVED the pigs, especially the ones making the biggest mess of their pens. The animals – and the kids who raise and show them in the competitive part of the event – were as I have always remembered.
And there were mushrooms, apples (Nittany Apples – obviously the Paterno boys’ favorite), and all manner of PA produce. In fact, all of the things I expected to be at the Farm Show were there – right down to the potato donuts and the rich chocolate milkshakes.
So why did it feel so different?
It took me a while, but later that night it hit me – it was like the money changers in the temple. Next to all that is and should be a part of a celebration of Pennsylvania Agriculture were some truly odd things.
There were stands selling cheap Chinese toys, crafts from beyond our borders and bandanas with the confederate battle flag on them, for crying out loud (note to people who still display the confederate flag: YOU LOST. Take it down. The Brits don’t get to fly the Union Jack except at the consulate). There were people doing a floor waxing demonstration in one booth. I half expected to be accosted by that annoying ShamWow!/Slap Chop guy at any second.
The flea market feel was bad enough – bad enough, that is, until my kids ran up to the Lottery display thinking the scratch card dispensers were video games and proceeded to beg me for quarters. Two thoughts instantly occurred to me: 1) I am a questionable parent at times but even I am going to wait until they are at least 10 to teach them how to gamble, and 2) the Commonwealth is missing a huge market – Super Mario Bros. scratch off games would get the kids hooked faster than a cool cartoon camel pushing smokes. But then the real problem hit me.
The Lottery booth, the Horse Racing and slots booth, and the Marcellus booth all have some tangential relationship to Pennsylvania agriculture – but do they really belong at the farm show? I understand that some commercial booths are needed to under write the event and keep the show going – but couldn’t we limit the types of commercial booths? Keep in mind – I am no anti-gaming zealot; but the Farm Show? Really?
The Farm Show should be a celebration of Pennsylvania’s biggest industry: agriculture. It should excite the attendees with the diversity of our produce, the quality of our animals, and the potential of our farms. It can and should be a way to sell our Commonwealth to the rest of the country and the world, one Nittany apple at a time.
And it should be a place for families. We should come and see the future farmers of our Commonwealth show the love and dedication it takes to raise animals and be willing to send them to market. We should feel the pride of these same children when their hard work is recognized. And we should be able to let our kids enjoy those same simple pleasures without having to be bludgeoned with commercial messages about the state’s gaming industry.
The core of the Farm show, its soul if you will, is still there. But, absent a change in trajectory, it is in danger
(Planning to head out to the PA Farm Show and need more information, click on Rock The Capital.)
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