Arts
9:22 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

96th Pennsylvania Farm Show Delights 400,000

It's a cliché, but you can't leave the Farm Show without trying the food, whether it's the milkshakes in the food court or free samples in the marketplace.

Brian Nicklaus sells Hammond's Pretzels. A bowl of pretzel bits sits out, free for the picking; apparently he's not worried about people filling up on samples. Nicklaus says that he doesn't see too many shameless freeloaders.

"Well, you see people but you don't say it to 'em," he says, chuckling.

This show is all about agricultural innovation, but what about the inventive ways vendors have to keep people from eating without buying?

Lyle Yost hails from northern Kentucky, but he works with the Pennsylvania Nut Growers. "We give out free samples, so I made up a little sign: one nut per nut," says Yost.

Eventually, the smell of candied almonds gives way to a different smell.

Welcome to the pig sty.

Gary Kasbee and his daughter, Bailey, from Mercer County, are standing near a brown and pink pig.

"Oreo is its name," says Gary. He nudges his daughter. "Well, Bailey, what do you want to say? It's your pig. What do you want to say?"

She responds, "Yeah, we take a show stick and we tap 'em on their side so they know which way to go. A wild pig will, like, run away from you."

After the American farmyard staples — pigs, cows, sheep — there's a small corner dedicated to the alpaca, an animal that doesn't exactly pepper the Pennsylvania countryside.

Monica Kline walks into a holding pen with maybe four alpacas (it's hard to see exactly how many; they cluster together and their long, giraffe-like necks almost intertwine). A sign next to the pen asks, "Is alpaca farming right for you?"

How does one decide?

"Oh, first you fall in love," says Kline, "which is what happened with my husband and me. Just that face was magnificent."

"All of my animals are named after Shakespearean characters," she declares proudly. "Yep, the little guy is Rodrigo, and the black girl that's standing there is Viola. Oh yes, I've had a crazy Ophelia. Yes, as a matter of fact, Ophelia is being born on the video that we're showing right here. The black Ophelia."

Wander around long enough in the underbelly of the Farm Show complex, and you'll run into the people who make the place work, like Andy Hoescher from Buffalo. He's walking fast off the cattle show ring, with a comb hanging out of his pocket.

"Just fittin' cows," he says. "See how they're all dressed up with uh, glue and stuff? That's what we're doing. Just like a beauty contest. I'm only here just to dress 'em, I don't do much other than that. Just fit 'em and send 'em and clip 'em. That's it."

That's advice for handling cows, not your kids. Let it be known: the Farm Show is not a great place to ditch rambunctious children. State Police Corporal Joe Nolte says that most kids are reunited with their parents right away.

"I've done three of those myself this year, where the child is crying, missing their mom, and then 'Oh, Ma, thank god, you found 'em!'" explains Nolte. "I'm like, 'OK,' so you know, it's, like, within 30 seconds."

Security guards stationed every so often around the complex keep an eye on crowds. Although Rosanne Anderson says that she couldn't tell you if there's been a fight or anything beyond her patrol, right outside the large arena.

"This is the only spot I get at, so I don't know," she says.

Anderson is from Harrisburg. She's worked the Farm Show before, and she says she likes it.

"Normally I'm down where the horses are, when they're bringing the horses in, you know? And the kids are lined up, getting ready to compete, and they're all psyched up about entering into the ring and everything — to me, that's the most exciting thing for me," says Anderson.

"See, when you work here, you never get to go in, I never get to go inside. I'm just stuck at the door, giving people directions. And that's my day, and that's my life," says Anderson.

For all those who get to go past the door, there's enough inside to have eyes agog all day: champion squash big enough to be a lethal weapon, an endless selection of leatherwear for sale, cooking exhibits hosted by a chef whose jokes crackle like a stand up comedian's, and a 40-person line for fried cheese cubes.

It'll last through the weekend.