If it’s January and right after the turn of the New Year, you know things will be jumping at the sprawling Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg.
Now in its 108th year, the 2024 Farm Show ran from January 6 through.13. In a typical year, the Show can bring in close to a half million visitors over the 8-day period. The event site is a massive series of halls and arenas that sprawl over 24 acres in 11 interconnected buildings.
Visitors are wise to pick up a map of the complex as well as a booklet that’s free of charge and lists the daily schedules which vary day to day. Keep in mind that not every event is offered every day, so it’s best to check ahead of time things that most interest you on the Farm Show website farmshow.pa.gov.
One of the most highly anticipated things featured at the Show is the popular butter sculpture. To create this year’s buttery work of art, Jim and Marie Felton of Montgomery County used 1,000 pounds of yellow dairy product. To keep everything chilled stable, they worked in a large, refrigerated display booth, where the sculpture remained during the entire show.
The artists claimed to have worked on the piece for 11, eight-hour days. From Harrisburg, the sculpture will be removed after the show to a recycling plant where it will be converted into biofuel.
|The Clydesdales and Belgians are very Popular
As might be expected, agricultural commodities are one of the main features of the show. At one point, the state’s apple growers created a huge mural out of red, yellow and green apples, that spelled out the words “2024 Farm Show.” Nearby, visitors were able to purchase cider donuts and sample cider beverages from the Pa. Cider Guild.
|Wine Plays a Big Role in Pa. Agriculture
Visitors can also nibble on samples of products like beef jerky in eight different flavors including Caribbean and Old Bay, Pa. wines, cheeses, and hot sauces. A not-to-miss product is the variety of $6 milkshakes offered by the Pa. Dairymen’s Association that come in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors. New this year is the salted caramel option. The shakes are delicious, but the lines queuing up for the sweet are often understandably long.
|The Iconic Milkshakes at the Farm Show Credit: PaCast.com
|We’ve Got Potatoes
Note: On Veteran’s Families Day, Jan. 11 this year, veterans got a free shake plus discounts at many of the vendor stalls. The day is also famous for its Army-Navy Cook Off, in which chefs in the various services vie against one another for the top honorarium.
In between noshing, you might want to try your hand at mechanical bull riding, which will set you back $10, but also gives you a chance to win $200. The same holds true for the trout fishing experience offered by Fishin’ with Friends. They provide the tackle, trout and large pool, and you get to try your hand at bragging rights for catching a whopper.
|Snuggling up with the Goats is a Popular Attraction
Something popular with the youngsters is the Snuggling up with the Goats corral. People of all ages were able to hold, feed and pet a large herd of baby goats held in a paddock in the complex.
|Something to Take Back Home
I somehow missed the butterfly experience but did enjoy standing on vibrating machine that looked like a treadmill and is designed to help circulation in the legs. Something I found fascinating was the video of Bell and Evans egg hatchery, which produces millions of young chicks in a mechanized egg incubator each year. Like dogs? You can pet ten or so different breeds and talk to their owners at the Canine Spectacular. Enjoy country music? There’s plenty of musicians and bands to choose from during the 8-day run.
|Look out Vermont. You’ve Got Competition from Pa.
During the show, there are close to 10,000 competitive events – everything from canned and baked goods to livestock and more entered by Pa. residents looking for a blue ribbon and the coveted walnut shield plaque. One of the most interesting, the Pa. Auctioneer Championship, pits the best auctioneers in the state against one another for the championship title.
|A Small Section of the Extensive Food Court
When you get hungry, window shop your way through the giant food court, where you can purchase a large array of prepared foods. The court is so large, it takes an estimated 2,000 volunteers to keep it running smoothly.
The potato pancakes, pierogis and goat Sloppy Joes are new this year, and the trout chowder, maple cotton candy, apple salsa, pork lollychop and cider floats are things you might not find elsewhere.
|Pa. is the Nation’s Largest Producer of Mushrooms
Mushrooms are the state’s number one crop, and the food court has them in many guises – mushroom salad, stuffed Portabellas, Portabella jerky, even Portabella nachos and mushroom burgers.
|One of the Cooking Demos at the Farm Show
While there are hundreds of free events at the Farm Show like the Kitchen Craft Waterless Cooking demo, the Ham and Eggs Magic Show, the State Police Drill Team demo and the flower arranging, rabbit judging and hydroponics demos, there is a ticket charge for the evening Rodeo, presented by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
|Pa. Has Cowboys as well!
Agriculture in Pennsylvania is big business and provides an estimated 593,000 jobs. Equally large, the annual Farm Show features nearly 6,000 animals, 12,000-plus competitive events and exhibits, nearly 250 commercial exhibits and hundreds of educational and entertaining events. Not only that, but it’s fun as well.
|Plants Galore! What Did You Expect?
If you’re considering going this year, the 2025 PA Farm Show runs from Saturday, January 4 through Saturday, January 11. Entry to the show is free but parking costs $15. To get visitors to the complex from the parking lots, show organizers maintain a fleet of shuttles, which carry people free of charge from the far edges of the parking lots to the main entrance. Because of the number of cars involved, it’s wise to either photograph your car’s location among the sea of vehicles or jot down the name of the parking lot so that getting back to your car is a bit easier.
|Inside Cafe Fresco
For a place to dine, Cafe Fresco, 215 N. Second St., has been serving discriminating diners on Downtown Harrisburg’s “Restaurant Row” since 2005. With a motto that reads “Urban Café by Day, Metropolitan Gourmet by Night,” Café Fresco offers both urban, café-style power lunches and Asian-inspired dinners.
The cafe’s feng shui-influenced décor is a match for its colorful, well-presented cuisine. According to our waitress, everything is freshly made.
|Braised Short Rib with Cippolini Onions over Butternut Squash Risotto
Suggested items include Szechuan Shrimp and Wagyu Beef Sliders appetizers, Braised Short Rib and Chilean Sea Bass (the restaurant’s most popular entrée). Phone 717-236-2599 or cafefresco.com.
|Inside the Best Western Premier The Central Hotel
For a Place to Stay, the Best Western Premier The Central Hotel, 800 E. Park Drive in Harrisburg has a impressive décor, starting with the lobby area with its high vaulted ceiling with skylight, ribbons of white lights that twinkle from above and a sunken social area with a large bar in the middle. Amenities include a 24-hour fitness area, a heated indoor pool, a large business area, complimentary morning coffee, and the Irish-themed restaurant O’Reilly’s, with one of the best beer lists in the area and a happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. Mon. – Fri. Phone 717-561-2800 or thecentralhotelharrisburg.com.