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Four years ago, Jean Brown could never have imagined she would be setting up a booth at the York Fair with her herd of dairy goats.

At the time, she was a child care provider who wanted a change of pace from the life she knew. 

"A lot of people said 'It can't be done, what are you talking about, that doesn't exist anymore,'" said Brown, the owner of Crazy Faith Farm in Landisburg, Perry County. "We found it. We're living proof."

Brown is among a section of Americans returning to the farming roots. And at the York Fair, the education and significance of agriculture is not only supported but encouraged.

With several exhibit halls such as the Ag Arena and Memorial Hall dedicated to farming and agriculture, the York Fair has expanded areas to show off all aspects of farming for both young and old to learn about.

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Despite the York Fair and other similar agriculture-positive events across the country, the number of farms in the United States has fallen. In 1935, during the peak of farming, more than 6 million farms existed across the country. That number had decreased to 2 million by 2012, according to the Washington Post. 

But the number of farmers under the age of 35 is growing for only the second time in the past century, the Post reported.

Though the climate of farming has changed with the passing years, many farmers and agriculture enthusiasts are eager to  return to those roots.

 Ashley and Jake Pieper, the owners of a small  farm in Thomasville, displayed dairy cows in the Ag Arena at the York Fair. The pair raise both beef and dairy cattle.

While Ashley Pieper grew up in Dutchess County, New York, where agriculture and farming was "phasing out," her husband grew up in a farming family.

"Over the last 10 or 20 years, we've become more and more removed from knowing someone who owned a farm," Jake Pieper said. "We're so many generations removed that now I think people are taking an interest in knowing where their food comes from again."

Jake Pieper, who has managed several dairy farms across the country, said the farms that do choose to exist in a more competitive market have no choice but to get bigger. But that doesn't mean the farms cease to be family-owned and -operated.

He also added that he thinks there is a resurgence in farming, especially among young people. 

Nicole Groff, the director of the Ag Education Center for the York Fair, said that with a deep history in agriculture, the fair celebrates local farmers and shows the dedication to agriculture.

This year, the Ag Education Center moved into a larger space in Memorial Hall with expanded programming. 

"With growing our Ag Education Center, it truly showcases what York County agriculture can bring," Groff said.

Though there has been a decline in traditional farming, Groff said there has been a greater interest in small or hobby farms such as Brown's goat farm.

Brown's farm specializes in goat milk soap and lotion, beard balm, bath bombs and lip balm. She's grown clientele over the years who rely on her products to help with psoriasis and eczema.

Though this is Brown's first time at the York Fair, she said it has been beneficial to her farm to talk with curious strangers who want to learn more about her animals. 

In addition to those who have grown interested in small or hobby farming, Groff also said multigenerational farms are making a comeback.

Groff, a graduate of Penn State majoring in animal science, said many younger people who grew up on farms are going to college to study agriculture. 

Though they may not end up working on a farm post-graduation, young people are pursuing careers that reach agriculture in one way or another, she said. 

"It's one of those niche markets that once it's in your blood, you don't really typically leave it," Groff said. "You always go back to it in some type of way."

The York Fair runs through Sunday, Sept. 15, with gates opening at 11 a.m. Friday through Sunday and noon Monday to Thursday.

Tickets for children 5 and under are free. Children and teenagers ages 6 to 18, and college students with an ID, pay $4. Adult admission is $8.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.

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