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Escape to the PA Farm Show

If your small kitchen garden is in hardiness zone 6 or lower (numerically), then it’s either totally dormant (and probably iced over), or it’s indoors. I hope you’re reading seed and nursery catalogs and planning your plantings for March, April, and May. But while all of that is fine and good, I always crave more during the coldest winter months. Thank goodness for the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Goats are among the livestock you can see hanging out at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

The PA Farm Show is a grand state fair held in January. The Farm Show Complex (a whole bunch of large, connected buildings called The Farm Show Complex) in Harrisburg becomes a week-long home to horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and the people who tend them. People compete for ribbons and prize money in hundreds of categories and the spectacle attracts audiences from all over the northeast.

What for the Small Kitchen Garden?

With so much emphasis on livestock, you might wonder what the Farm Show offers to the home kitchen gardener. Truth is, focus on home gardening is modest. Mid-winter, gardeners here are showing off their canned goods. These represent what grew last season, and what will grow in the spring, but they barely get my gardening adrenaline flowing. Still, you’ll find exhibits of vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, nuts, grains, trees, honey production, and maple syrup production. You’ll also find plenty of exhibits and activities having to do with cooking—an essential part of the kitchen gardener’s repertoire.

One very nice touch is that vendors in the food court represent agricultural special-interest groups: PA Bee Keepers Association, PA Cooperative Potato Growers, PA Dairymen’s Association, PA Livestock Association, PA Maple Syrup Producers Council, PA Mushroom Growers Cooperative, PA Vegetable Growers Association, and many more will be serving foods that incorporate their constituents’ products.

The Farm Show sponsors cooking demos and competitions that might inspire new ways for you to use next season’s small kitchen garden produce.

A jam-packed hall of vendors showcases at least some products that will appeal to any kitchen gardener. Last year, a spice dealer there had seasonings I’ve always wanted for some middle-eastern dishes, but have never found in local grocery stores.

Another large hall at the Farm Show houses farming equipment. If your small kitchen garden just isn’t satisfying, you might find the perfect tractor/plough/harvester combination to help with your expansion project. Just for kicks, tour one of the larger horse-carrying camper/trailers… some are as luxurious as any weekend warrior’s recreational vehicle.

Live Entertainment at the Farm Show

Many people would have to redefine what they think of as entertainment to find any at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Understand that we are a primarily rural state. We love technology as much as the next state, but we also love our un-tech. Two of the most lively events at the Farm Show are Team Cattle Penning and the Sheep-To-Shawl competition.

Most people wouldn’t do this in a small kichen garden, but penning cattle looks like a lot of fun. No doubt I’ll spend several hours watching the action this year.

In team cattle penning, people on horseback must chase three calves out of a herd at one end of an arena, and into a pen at the other end. I’d never seen this event until last year’s Farm Show; I found it riveting.

In the Sheep-To -Shawl event, contestants must sheer their sheep, spin the wool into yarn, and weave a shawl in just three hours. I haven’t seen this competition, but have been hearing about it for years. Organizers auction off the finished shawls during the Farm Show, so drawing the highest bid at auction has become a sport in its own right.

Go to a Farm Show

In case you haven’t caught on, here’s my suggestion: if you live in central Pennsylvania, go to the Farm Show. It’s open to the public starting on January 10, and it runs through January 17. You’ll find enough related to gardening and cooking to make the trip worthwhile, and you might discover that some unfamiliar activities can be quite entertaining. (There must be fifty types of rabbits on display there… and an even greater variety of chickens.) Follow this link for a schedule of events at the PA Farm Show.

If you don’t live in central Pennsylvania, you’re still welcome at the Farm Show… but I’ll understand if you don’t make the trip. But if you don’t, and your gardening urge is frustrated by the climate, look for something like a farm show in your part of the world. Professional gardeners put on wonderful winter garden shows that at least temporarily lift the weary from the dreary winter muck.

Let Us Know!

If you’re aware of a farm show, or something equivalent in your area, tell us about it in a comment. And, if you attend such a show this winter, leave a comment summarizing your experience.

I’ll be at the PA Farm Show at least three days and will post about it here. I hope you’ll be there too.

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