HARRISBURG — Christian Herr looked at the trees holding the soil in place, the small stream nearby, the lush, green alfalfa and farm equipment that included a blue New Holland tractor and even a Marcellus Shale well head.
He walked into the barn where chickens laid eggs, turkeys gobbled, ducks quacked, piglets nursed and cows, steers and veal calves looked content.
Think Herr was visiting a distant farm? Guess again.
Herr, executive vice president of PennAg Industries Association, was standing in the heart of the Today’s Agriculture display behind the Food Court at the 98th Pennsylvania Farm Show. The display, a modern farm plopped in the heart of the Farm Show, teaches the public about farming like nothing else can, Herr said.
“We wanted to take away the mystique about modern farming and bust the myths,” Herr said. “People drive past barns often and see them from afar. But they usually can’t visit because of biosecurity concerns. Here, they can walk in.”
Thousands of people have been doing just that.
First, they tour the outside part of the little farm, seeing alfalfa transplanted from the farm of Hunter Smith of Newport and replanted into soil dumped on the Weis Exposition Hall floor; corn grown by Quality Greenhouses of Dillsburg, rye that Herr and his helpers planted Dec. 8 to demonstrate how this popular cover crop grows; and trees planted to prevent runoff. A shiny grain bin towers over the scene along with farm equipment such as a red H & S forage cart.
There’s also the Marcellus Shale wellhead.
“We aren’t endorsing Marcellus Shale,” Herr said. “But it is part of the landscape. Pennsylvania has about 4,000 of the wellheads, many on farms. So we want people to learn about them.”
Inside the 84-foot-long by 42-foot wide barn, visitors see farm animals in their typical housing used in modern agricultural practices.
Five dozen chickens in cages lay eggs, which are donated to the Bethesda Mission each day. Nearby, newborn chicks peep under heat lamps.
“The pigs are our most popular exhibit,” Herr smiled, stopping beside an enormous sow nursing six piglets and two other pens with market hogs. Beef cattle, dairy cows and veal calves complete the barn.
Sydney May, 6, of Mechanicsburg seemed mesmerized by a large sow nursing a dozen 3-week-old piglets.
“The mommy pig is sleeping,” she told her parents, Jamie and Gordon May and little sister, Kylie. “I like the pigs. They have strange noses.”
Connie Manbeck, a hog producer from Wormelsdorf and a Today’s Agriculture volunteer, said that the hogs seem to be the most popular animals in the barn.
“We have a sow and her piglets, four 150-pound hogs and two market hogs, weighing 240 to 250 pounds,” she said. “We want people to see what’s behind the barn doors and see how we raise good products for them.”
Dr. Adman Aydin of Marcho Farms in Franconia stood by the veal pens answering questions about how veal are raised. He said veal comes from Holstein bull calves who are slaughtered at 20 to 22 weeks when they weigh 450 to 500 pounds.
“Pennsylvania is the country’s largest veal producing state,” he said.
Tyler Staub, 6, of New Freedom, checked out the chickens and smiled.
“I like watching the little chicks eat and drink water,” he said, pointing at them. “I also like chickens that lay eggs. I like hard boiled eggs.”
Herr said he was pleased with the steady stream of visitors to Today’s Agriculture.
“We started this year’s display, our third, on Dec. 3,” Herr said. “We brought in eight tractor-trailer loads of Lancaster County soil. We spent weeks setting everything up.”
He said 125 agricultural organizations came together to help with the display.
Herr said Today’s Agriculture lives up to its name. Volunteers staffing the exhibit share facts about the animals and crops. They also answer questions about everything from castration to crates.
“There are reasons farmers do certain agricultural practices, even if they don’t seem nice,” Herr said. “We want people to understand farming today. Last year, more than 300,000 people visited us. It’s become a ‘don’t miss’ part of the Farm Show. We’ve even had visitors from nine states to see how it’s done. This is how we tell our story.”