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Pa. Farm Show Opens With Rodeo, Polkas

January 13, 2003

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Bruce and Phyllis Horning hadn’t visited the Pennsylvania Farm Show in several years, so they were overwhelmed to see how dramatically the state’s annual agricultural showcase had grown when they arrived.

In the middle of a light-filled lobby with a wine-tasting booth at one end, they paused in front of a full-color orientation map to figure out how they would plot their movements. On the walls, flat-screen televisions displayed schedules of the opening day’s events.

``It looks bright, cheery, and well laid-out,″ said Bruce Horning, 53, a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan officer from Huntingdon. ``Space was at a premium when our children used to show here from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s.″

The 87th annual Farm Show, which the state Department of Agriculture has touted for the past several years as the nation’s largest indoor agricultural event, is even bigger this year.

The event, which attracts an estimated 400,000 visitors annually, opened just weeks after the completion of a $76 million expansion and renovation project.

Exhibit space at the 70-year-old complex on the outskirts of Harrisburg has increased from 660,000 square feet to more than 1 million square feet, and upgrades to the facility included the addition of escalators and elevators, as well as the installation of air conditioning.

Gov. Mark S. Schweiker took it all in during an hour-long tour before officially opening the show, fortifying himself with a chocolate milkshake and some bites of a baked potato from the food court.

``There’s a unique excitement for the governor of a big farming state to visit with all the farming families here, and soon it will be a fond memory,″ said Schweiker, who leaves office Jan. 21 and begins a new job as head of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 1.

In addition to the usual livestock judging and auctions, baking contests, and the high school rodeo competition, the farm show has several new events. They include equipment demonstrations, hourly cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs and cookbook authors, and a polka contest.

One of the more popular displays on Sunday was a 4,000-pound carbide steel drill bit and a cylindrical cage that were the focus of national attention one night in July.

The drill bit was used to bore down 240 feet below the surface at the Quecreek Mine in Somerset, where nine miners were trapped July 24 after a flood. They spent 77 hours underground before the capsule-like cage hauled them to safety, one at a time.

The 2003 farm show marks the return of poultry exhibits, which were banned last year following an outbreak of avian flu on six poultry farms in Union County. The ban was lifted in August.

The show has been expanded from six to eight days, ending on Jan. 18.

About one-third of the new exhibit hall’s space was set aside for the food court, offering a smorgasbord of possibilities for hungry spectators, from potato doughnuts to shoofly pie.

Long lines abounded around lunchtime, and some patrons who were unable to find a free table ended up sitting on the concrete floor.

``It would be nice if maybe they had some benches,″ said Heather Smiles, 30, of Centre Hall. She sat cross-legged, finishing a barbecue sandwich while her 3-year-old son Jared sipped his milkshake.

Inside a new equine barn, Gary Groves of Tunkhannock was relaxing in a folding chair after showing four of his Belgian horses in a draft horse competition. Groves co-owns a stable with Rep. Donald L. Sherwood, R-Pa.

``This is a far better facility in every way. There’s better stalls and a lot less dust. They still have to work on the heat thing, though,″ said Groves, 60, whose jacket was securely zipped.

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On the Net:

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture: http://www.agriculture.state.pa.us

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