AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is set to begin the second weekend of January, giving public officials a chance to tout agriculture as the state's leading industry. But the data behind this oft-heard claim is fuzzy.

Agriculture isn't the state's top industry based on any ranking from the Department of Labor & Industry (L&I). The purported ranking is rooted in an assessment of the industry's economic impact: $75 billion, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Visitors to this year’s farm show can play detective at various stations providing information and hands-on lessons.

“Investigating about the roles of bees in food production, measuring the height of horses or learning how sap becomes maple syrup,” said Logan Hall, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spokesman.

Johnny Appleseed: Beyond the Myth

Sep 25, 2014
Rudolf Vlček / Flickr

You may not recognize the name John Chapman from your history books. The pioneering American nurseryman is better known as Johnny Appleseed, who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and the Midwest. We’ll mark the 240th anniversary of Johnny Appleseed’s birth and his connection to Pittsburgh with culture contributor Joe Wos.

Kee Won Song / Special to 90.5 WESA

Agriculture is the leading economic enterprise in Pennsylvania.  Between 1982 and 1997, over a million acres were developed and converted to other uses—the equivalent of 209 acres a day.  In 1988, the state instituted a program to help slow the loss of prime farmland.

The League of Woman Voters of Greater Pittsburgh (LWVGP) is not just for election information. The organization is branching out into the agricultural sector.

LWVGP is holding public educational meetings on the farming industry — focusing on major food issues including: genetically modified organisms, water pollution, antibiotics in livestock, food labeling and crop subsidies. 

The commonwealth's number one industry is being saluted this week during the 98th Pennsylvania Farm Show, which opened Saturday and continues through Jan. 11 in Harrisburg. 

Agricultural income totals about $6.6 billion with dairy production as the leading component. Pennsylvania is home to more than 62,000 farms averaging 124 acres.

State Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks), the minority chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said the eight-day show is themed, “Pennsylvania Farms: Growing for You,” and is the largest indoor agricultural event in the country.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

On a muggy Wednesday morning, before the sun has burned off the morning’s clouds, Lionel Greenawalt drives across his 100-acre Westmoreland County farm to a field of sweet corn.

While Greenawalt and his children pick an average of 400 dozen ears of corn each morning, at the moment, they have more corn than they can sell.

“It was kind of rainy this summer season, and we weren’t able to get into the field to plant every five to seven days,” he said. “So what happens is we have a lot of corn that comes in all together.”

That’s where gleaning comes in.

Animal rights and environmental activists are not happy about a state House proposal that would make it a felony to record or take pictures of an agricultural operation without the owner’s consent.

Democratic Rep. Gary Haluska of Cambria County says family farmers in his district suggested he introduce legislation to protect them from surreptitious documentarians.

The Humane Society of the U.S.

Chickens crammed into wire cages next to the rotting carcasses of other chickens.  The floor of a barn coated with flies. Hens with their heads jammed between cages and feeding machines.

The Humane Society of the U.S. released a video last year depicting those conditions at what it said was Kreider Farms in Manheim, Pa., in Lancaster County.

The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center recently released a report on the economical and environmental benefits of sustainably produced, local agriculture. The organization also offered a blueprint of policies they hope state legislators will adopt and introduce in Pennsylvania.

The report, "Healthy Farms, Healthy Environment: State and Local Policies to Improve Pennsylvania’s Food System and Protect our Land and Water," highlighted programs, such as Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative, which pushed for developing sustainable agriculture methods.