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EDITORIAL: Salute Pa. farmers – this week and every week

York Dispatch
Milton Knouse of Knouse Fruitlands organizes his apples Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, at the Farm Show complex in Harrisburg, Pa.  Starting Saturday, thousands of visitors are expected to descend on the state capital for the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show, a weeklong celebration agriculture and rural life.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show is here — and with it comes the excitement of some favorite attractions like butter sculptures, pulled pork, tractors, rodeo riders and milkshakes (the new flavor, in case you have been out of the state and off of social media for the past week, is strawberries and cream).

The state-sponsored show has been held every year in Harrisburg since 1917. Over the years, the event has evolved and changed according to the times, says Mary Klaus, a local journalist who recently published a book about the show's first century.

The early farm shows expanded quickly and were held in multiple buildings in downtown Harrisburg, "like a progressive dinner party," Klaus said. But days after the 1929 stock market crash, crews broke ground on the current complex that opened in 1931 and attracted 255,000 visitors.

We like the imagery of the progressive dinner party because it reminds us that throughout a century often punctuated by turmoil, the foundation of the Farm Show remained the same: The farmers — without whom a progressive dinner party (or frankly, any other kind) would be impossible.

Organizers hope to bring awareness about the agricultural industry to the people of Pennsylvania through farm-to-table and farmers exhibits.

During a round of promotional interviews this past week, prior to the opening day of the Farm Show, Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding advocated for Pennsylvania residents to have a relationship with farmers, who provide sustenance to Pennsylvanians and their families.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the national agriculture sector encompasses myriad industries — the largest of which are food service and food manufacturing, and Americans’ expenditures on food amount to an average of 13 percent of household budgets.

And agriculture is the foundation of a number of local, state and national industries, including forestry, fishing, textiles and apparel to name a few. In 2013, the agriculture industry contributed $789 billion — a 4.7 percent share — to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the USDA.

Additionally, in 2014, 17.3 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agriculture industry, more than 9 percent of overall national employment, the Department of Agriculture says.

We admit that we like the spectacle of the Farm Show, the milkshakes, the butter sculptures (all of that food, really) and the energy and excitement generated by the week-long event. There are 6,000 animals and 10,000 exhibits, along with thousands of commercial exhibits.

It really has come a long way since its progressive dinner party days.

Without the farmers, however, none of it would be possible. We think their contributions on state and national levels are worth keeping top of mind this week – and beyond.

The show at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center near Harrisburg runs through the Saturday, Jan. 16. Admission is free and parking is $15.