There has been a lot of buzz about the Farm Show this week. Despite having lived in a fairly rural suburb of Philadelphia for most of my childhood, it's an annual miracle I'd never heard of till I moved to the Harrisburg area. And when I did, color me astonished. I mean, you do not know how enthusiastic people can be about a milkshake till you ask someone from the Burg about the Farm Show. On top of that, it turned out like basically everyone I knew here had worked there in high school or college, winter's answer to the service Hershey Park provides employing the region's youth in the summer. I asked former Farm Show employee and guest contributor, Cristion O'Leary-Rockey to spare a few words on the topic. What follows is the resulting unsolicited and uncompensated advertisement for the state's big show. If you're around tomorrow and are willing to brave crowds in the age of Omicron, check out the last day. If not, keep it in your pocket for next winter.
If you’re a Central Pennsylvania native like me, then you’re likely familiar with many of the great Keystone state’s claims to fame: Hershey kisses, the Liberty Bell, the Little Grand Canyon, horses and buggies, Wawa. The list goes on. It’s mid-January now, and if you’re from this part of PA or familiar with it, then mid-January means the Farm Show, the largest inside agricultural event in the US. PA’s been host to this 8-day festival of sorts for 106 years now, and this year they’re back in person, and in style.
Every year, hundreds of people (Hundreds? Thousands?) flock to ol’ Harrisburg for the PA Farm Show, a robust display of all that agrarian America has to offer. There’s cattle wrangling, bronco bucking, tractors, giant butter sculptures, cows/rabbits/horses/fried batter/ice cream/10-gallon hats/auctioneers rattling off livestock prices…
There’s a lot, man.
And take it from me—I’m no country boy. The closest to farming I get is mowing the lawn (and even that needs some motivating) The PA Farm Show is composed of—and tailored to—those with agricultural sentiments, but it can still be a blast if it's not part of your cultural identity.
The food is fantastic, man. Like dayum. Throughout the rest of the year, you may occasionally happen upon outlets like restaurants and art fairs with the fabled sign “PA Farmshow Milkshakes here!” Well ladies and gentlemen, here’s where that probability curve hits 100%. Do yourself a favor: if you purchase nothing else get one of those bad boys. Want more than a dessert option? I can’t even go into the myriad calorically substantive food choices you have to choose from in the packed food court off the lobby. If there's nothing else you like about it, you can at least stand in line to eat.
Over the years of attending, I’ve seen a fair bit of the variety the Farm Show has to offer. I even spent a couple of college winter breaks working the Farm Show, a local rite of passage to function as a silent member of the humming collective that keeps it running. It’s a huge facility: 1 million square feet and that’s not hard to believe when you see it. You can spend a day there—you could spend a weekend even—hell you could probably spend the week living in the vents there without exhausting everything it has to offer. With different shows every day and two separate competition spaces, you’re guaranteed a chance for some fashion of genuine entertainment. If you walk through the complex, you’ll find all auctions, trucks, and all manner of human and agricultural animals—some for petting, others for admiring, some even for traumatizing if you're not into watching live births— and loads of information and booths about the state's climate, local plants and wildlife, mushrooms.
It’s a solid place to drop some money. There’s a good deal of custom clothing of the country-style to be had, including some bad ass boots if you’re partial to that sort of thing like me. You’ll find artisans and creators with some beautiful works to see or bring home if they strike your fancy. There’s really no shortage of ways to spend, which is only a drawback if you let it be. You don’t need to. Just bring a couple bucks for one of those milkshakes (and $15 for parking).
Ultimately, the Farm Show is a staple of Pennsylvania life—at least from my Central PA vantage point. It gives a colorful variety of people a chance to come together under one (large) roof, swap stories, show off their wares, and be proud of what they do. For those reasons alone I’d say its worth going at least once in your life.
Cristion O'Leary-Rockey is a musician, chemist, philosopher, dad, and all-around delight. Born and raised in the Harrisburg area, his optimism and sincerity set his perspective apart. A contributor to a number of musical projects, you can find him performing regularly around town, or you can seek out his tinctures created for Myco Mecca Mushrooms.