The Keystone State is outshining the rest
By Trent Loos
As the New Year rolled around, I once again told myself that I need to be in more places where consumers gather instead of spending the majority of my time with my fellow farmers and ranchers. That said, the year could not be off to a better start because I just spent three days at the most advanced farm-to-fork connection that exists in the entire nation. The Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg attracts nearly a half million people in eight days, and what the agricultural community of Pennsylvania has assembled must be replicated in every state.
Chris Herr, executive vice president of Penn Ag Industries Association, reminded several people that when I was speaking to the Lancaster, Pa., Chamber of Commerce Ag Appreciation Banquet eight years ago, I made the statement, "Until we open the doors and really show people what it is we do on modern farms, the myths and misinformation will continue to exist."
Lots of people come up with good ideas but few are willing to take the steps necessary to do the right thing and "open those doors." The Pennsylvania agricultural community is the exception. They have united all groups and are getting it done in an amazing way.
The display is simply titled Today's Agriculture. On display, attendees can see corn growing from the soil buffer strips along streams and get an understanding of guidance systems. The livestock building gives all attendees the real feel and smell of how it really works.
Veal calves in a stall, laying hens in cages, chicks in a hatchery, ducks in a growing pen, dairy cows in a free stall barn, sows in gestation stalls, nursery and finishing pigs on slats and a beef cow-calf pair all give the consumer real and relevant experience.
Without question the most common sentiment heard in the barn was, "It is nothing like I thought it would be." People were surprised and impressed, dispelling many of those myths they have been led to believe. The interaction between actual Pennsylvania farmers and their customers is the most valuable aspect of this amazing endeavor.
Also assisting with education at this event was the National Beef Ambassador team. For Chandler Mulvaney, Emma Jumper and Katie Stroud, it was the experience of a lifetime in terms of fielding questions they could have never expected, such as:
Why would you feed these cattle GMO grains?
Isn't taking the life of a baby calf for veal production a cruel thing?
And the most prevalent question, why feed those cattle junk food?
In Pennsylvania, cattle feeders have the benefit of feeding by-products from chip, pasta and candy bar manufacturing plants. Showing a complete ignorance to the fact that the building blocks of nutrition are protein, carbohydrates, fats and fibers, the average mother has been told that candy and chips are evils in the war on fat. So they automatically assume that cows should not be eating them either with no regard for how a balanced diet actually works.
I must address the veal question as well because it is truly ingenious to include this display as a component of Pennsylvania agriculture. Everyone I visited with about veal was reluctant about the industry because they did not understand that milk-fed veal calves actually weigh 500 pounds at harvest. The mere understanding that these calves are the same age at harvest as a market hog seemed to go a long way in bringing a better appreciation for the veal sector.
There is so much that I could elaborate about in terms of how the state of Pennsylvania has truly led the charge here in finding the best way to "open the doors" of today's agriculture and show people how it is done and thus busting nearly all the myths that exist. Their work is so outstanding that in just the second year of the display, the International Association of Fairs and Expos recognized the Pennsylvania Farm Show as the best of the best.
The real story on farm chores is that they are never actually done, but my hat is off to the folks of the Keystone State as they are far ahead of the rest of us right now.
Editor's note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.