Thursday, January 14, 2016

farm livin' is the life for me

I grew up and currently live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, situated in the southeastern corner of the state, is the fifth largest city in the country. On the other side of Pennsylvania is the industrial city of Pittsburgh. Known for its steel industry and its rabid allegiance to football, Pittsburgh is the sixty-second largest city in the country. The 305 miles that separates these two metropolises is comprised of, what we big-city dwellers affectionately, though disparagingly, refer to as "Pennsyltucky."

This past weekend Mrs. P and I, once again, ventured out to see how the other half lives. We hopped on the mighty Pennsylvania Turnpike and, a mere 90 minutes later, found ourselves in Harrisburg, the state capital, and the perennial site of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, The show is a sprawling exhibition covering 24 acres across eleven individual (though connected) buildings. It is the largest indoor agricultural event held in the United States... and it's right here in Pennsylvania! Not Alabama. Not Kansas. It's here in a state that fought on the winning side of the Civil War.

We entered the aptly named Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center and were immediately greeted by a huge display of hay and the unmistakable smell of cow shit. I began to snap pictures like a tourist at the Eiffel Tower. I moved in for a closer look and I began to ponder the subtle differences between First Place hay and Honorable Mention hay. I decided that I am not qualified nor would  I never understand the nuances having never actually grazed.

Mrs P and I moved through the massive complex, marveling at the amount of people that this show draws. And how many of those people are clad in camouflage. (Most.) We saw enormous displays of apples, potatoes, honey, pumpkins and many more farm-related commodities. While Mr.s Pincus perused the various arrangements of prize-winning baked goods and handicrafts, I consulted a schedule of events for the day. I didn't want to come all this way and not see at least one animal. I noted that the celebrated Draft Horse Hitched Competition was coming up in a few minutes. Having no idea what that was, but excited just the same, I hustled my spouse through a maze of buildings towards the area. We passed dozens of pens of rabbits, stalls of immense cows and some other animals which, upon first glance, I could not identify. We planned to investigate and give them more attention on our way back, but, for now, we didn't want to be late for the 10:30 showing of whatever it is that draft horses do... or are.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.
We found seats in the arena. We sat and watched as a tractor raked and primped the dirt for the morning's presentation. The air was filled with the sounds of piped-in twangy guitar and the smells of some undetermined animal excrement. As the place filled to minimal capacity, we noticed that we were the only ones not appropriately dressed for a day of deer hunting. Suddenly, the PA crackled to life and, before a single hoof trampled the dirt, we were instructed to stand for a recitation of the Star Spangled Banner. Many eyes grew misty by the time the "bombs were bursting in air," and when the "home of the brave" was proclaimed, we were ready to begin. A rumble began below us and a team of six oversize equines burst into the arena, rousing clouds of dirt with their hulking hooves. The team pulled a shiny, lacquered wagon with the driver snapping the reins in a swaying, but authoritative, fashion. A second team soon appeared, followed by another, until six nearly identical assemblages were encircling the arena floor. Judges observed with cocked heads, making mental notations, as the teams altered their gaits from full gallop to lazy trot. After a time, a winner was announced to thunderous applause. I had no idea what I had just witnessed.

We made our way back to the livestock area to get up close and personal with animals outside of the realm of cats and dogs. We saw cows. (Those we recognized.) The alpacas took a bit longer to identify, but thanks to Mrs. P's numerous viewing of the original Dr. Doolittle and her familiarity with the Pushme Pullyou, we put two and two together, The aisles — strewn with straw, feed and God knows what other organic material — were narrow and packed, as visitors gawked and pointed at what was essentially their next meal. Yessir, no farm show is complete without its homey food favorites.

Say "cheese!"
Just beyond the livestock was a football field-sized room jam-packed with Pennsylvania-specific food vendors. The offering ranged from deep-fried mushrooms to chocolate covered bacon to fresh vegetable soup. There were sandwiches filled with beef brisket, pulled pork, fried chicken, fried clams and pretty much anything that could fit into a vat of boiling hot oil. Mrs. and I opted for a thin wooden stick skewering four deep-fried cubes of cheese. Mrs. P got a highly-recommended milkshake, as well. ("Deep-fried" seemed to be the preferred method of food preparation, although the milkshake was not fried, but I'm sure it could've been.) As we wound our way through the crowded food section, seeking an open table to momentarily stand and eat our afternoon snack, we watched a woman angrily toss a full, untouched, pleasantly garnished Bloomin' Onion into a plastic trash container. I hoped that was not a commentary on the quality of all of the food. We eventually found a table. The cheese was good and we didn't throw any of it away.
Outta my way! Moo!

I checked the schedule and saw that the Angel Food Cake contest was about to begin. We rushed over to the judging area, where a dozen or so "Aunt Bee" look-a-likes fidgeted anxiously as the judges were introduced. It was announced that there were a record 83 entries in this year's contest and each judge got a personal introduction. "This here is Mary Jo Fasnacht. She represents the Egg and Dairy Council of the Eastern District of Northwestern Luzerne County.... and she can eat the fuck out of an angel food cake." The judges looked over the five tables of elaborately-decorated cakes. I convinced Mrs. P. that we should move on, not wishing to watch each of these judges eat 83 pieces of cake. That was not my idea of Sunday afternoon entertainment. (And this is coming from a guy who will watch a Gilligan's Island marathon on TV.)

We took another stroll through the livestock area, where our walk was interrupted by a line of cows being led to (I hoped) some sort of bovine competition and not just towards the kitchen facilities.

The schedule of events promised a rabbit hopping contest would take place at 5 pm. I checked the clock on my cellphone and saw it was only 2:30. I couldn't imagine waiting another two and a half hours to watch some rabbits hop. I decided to just watch a You Tube video of the event when I got home. The schedule also listed the hopping event would be immediately followed by a rabbit meat judging contest. Sometimes there are no second chances at hopping. It's a good thing that rabbits can't read.

Completely content with our brief glimpse into a heretofore uncharted culture, my wife and I headed back to the big city where milk and eggs come from a store. And butter is something you spread on bread, not an art supply.

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