Farm Show fare is better than fair fare. The "Grown in Pennsylvania" crowd has elbowed aside steam-table pizza and hot dogs vendors in its own food court, featuring the commonwealth's signature edibles: barbecue from prize-winning pigs, trout chowder, breaded mushrooms, maple syrup cotton candy, potato doughnuts and apple dumplings to die for: heavy, warm and topped with melting vanilla ice cream for $3. I shared a stand-up table with an accountant and a massage therapist from Baltimore.
By late afternoon, the excitement crested as organizers attempted to break the Guinness World Record for Largest Chicken Dance. Alas, the crowd wiggling their behinds were reported to fall a few short of the required 72,000. I consoled myself with a green honey stick from the beekeepers demo. Better luck this year.
The yearly Farm Show near Harrisburg shows off Pennsylvania's best, from real horses to cows made of butter.
(Photos The Pennsylvania Farm Show)
In the Large Arena, 6,500 ticket-holders were filing in for the rodeo finals, which annually attract pro riders from Maine to West Virginia. (These aren't just 20-year-old studs: Headlining this year's women's barrel racing event is 65-year-old grandma and former circuit champ Judy Merola.) The grand opening commenced with a rollout of the arena-size American flag and a contestants' parade.
By 6 o'clock, tired families were heading for the door, pulling wagonloads of kids. Bonneted Mennonite mothers and grandparents followed the lead of men in coveralls and flannel shirts. Despite the crowds, there was real pleasure in their faces. Farm folks must be happy to get out and mingle with a crowd, I thought. But that was equally true of the massage therapist, the accountant, that dad who didn't know an Angus from an Ayrshire -- and me.
GETTING THERE: The 88th annual Pennsylvania Farm Show will take place Jan. 10-17 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, Cameron and Maclay streets in Harrisburg, about a two-hour drive from the Beltway. Take I-270 north to Route 15 at Frederick, and 15 north to Harrisburg and I-81. The Farm Show Complex is just off Exit 67 of I-81.
THE FARM SHOW: Admission is free. The show is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., except Jan. 17, when it closes at 5 p.m. Info: www.farmshow.state.pa.us. The First Frontier Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals are held at 7 p.m. Jan. 15-17. Reserved tickets are $20, general admission $10. No advance sales; purchase tickets on site during the show.
STAYING THERE: Among the hotels offering special Farm Show rates are Holiday Inn Express, 5680 Allentown Blvd. (I-81, Exit 72A), 717-657-2200, $59 per night; Comfort Inn Harrisburg-Hershey, 7744 Linglestown Rd. (I-81, Exit 77), 717-540-8400, $59 per night; and the downtown Crowne Plaza Harrisburg, 23 S. Second St., 717-234-5021, $75 per night.
EATING THERE: For sit-down dining instead of fast food, go to the neighborhood around the Capitol Complex; try the tiny Cafe Sol, for steaks and exotic cuisine, 231 North St., 717-233-2009 (closed Sunday evenings) or the Firehouse, a station house-turned-pub where the hydrants pour beer; 606 N. Second St., 717-234-6064.
INFO: Hershey Capital Region Visitors Bureau, 717-231-7788, www.hersheycapitalregion.com.