Even though agriculture is the main attraction at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, it is primarily attended by people who have no connection to farming. Each year, approximately 400,000 people invade the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa. to see the animals, watch the shows and taste some of Pennsylvania’s finest agricultural products.
This year, there was a new exhibit for visitors to explore – the Today’s Agriculture exhibit, a 10,000-square foot area that featured modern agriculture at its best.
I was pleased to help staff the exhibit during one afternoon where hundreds, if not, thousands, of people strolled through the barn that highlighted farm animals including dairy cows, hogs, beef cows, veal calves, chickens, turkeys and ducks in today’s animal housing facilities. Outside of the barn, crops were shown in different stages of growth with equipment conveniently placed near the crops that they plant or harvest.
While from my perspective, the exhibit did an excellent job showcasing modern, “real-life” agriculture, I do question whether all visitors realized that was the goal and objective. Some did for sure, but I don’t know if others understood. Many people, especially the young children, were focusing more on the animals themselves than their surroundings because for many of them, it was their first time seeing farm animals up-close. I see this as a success as well, since what they saw were happy and healthy animals throughout the barn.
There were others that definitely took notice to what was around the animals. In the dairy area, Farm Show visitors saw Hillary (or so we called her), a laid-back, three-year old dry cow, enjoying the breeze of the fan, laying in clean bedding, with access to a rotating cow brush and a sand-bedded freestall. Visitors agreed that Hillary was well taken care of. Additionally, Bailey (again, our choice of name) was a three-month-old calf relaxing in a calf pen and taking in the attention that she received from countless people, adults and children alike.
In the 3.5 hours that I staffed the booth, I did not receive any negative comments regarding the dairy industry. I did interact with a few people who had questions about how cows are managed, and although I immediately said to myself, “Oh, here we go,” it wasn’t that way at all. Sometimes it’s hard for us in agriculture to remember that even if someone asks a question, that doesn’t mean that they are totally against the system that we are depicting. If anything, we should be ecstatic that they are asking questions because it shows that they are genuinely interested in learning about how we take care of animals. Isn’t that precisely what we want??!
One of the questions I fielded that afternoon was from a woman who asked if all dairy farms give cows access to pasture. After explaining that some farms do and some farms don’t and that it is a management choice, I used Hillary as an example, showcasing her sand-bedded stall, the waterer located in the corner of the pen and the fan blowing on her. The visitor agreed that it might actually be nicer in a barn sometimes, especially on hot summer days, and walked away having confidence that today’s dairy farmers are taking good care of their animals, no matter if they have access to pasture or not.
This experience further supports my thought that consumer ignorance doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t support what farmers do. Remember, as described in First Things First, it is not their fault. If anything, it’s our fault for not doing a better job telling our story, although exhibits like Today’s Agriculture are certainly helping us to spread the word.
Kudos to PennAg Industries Association and all of the other agricultural organizations that made the Today’s Agriculture exhibit possible. It was inspiring to see so many farmers and industry representatives dedicate time to staff the exhibit and educate consumers. I have no doubt that this will be a staple at the Pennsylvania Farm Show for many years to come and perhaps lead the way for other states to include similar exhibits at their state fairs and farm shows.
PS – Thanks for your response to my 4.2 Million Views and Counting… post. I was pleased to see many of you chiming in to support agriculture!