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Have you ever been to a tractor square dance?

One irony of contemporary culture is that despite the fact that $135.7 billion of Pennsylvania’s economy is connected to agriculture, and agriculture pays $27 billion of our wages, it often seems as if there is a vast distance “from farm to table.”

In other words, partly because of the efficiencies of corporate farming and supermarkets, the earthy sources of our food, drink, clothing, shelter and more are easily forgotten. To offset this distance, our family tries to make an annual pilgrimage to the PA Farm Show.

The PA Farm Show is the nation’s largest indoor agriculture exposition, held inside a 1-million-square-foot shelter from Harrisburg’s January weather. This year, the “Pennsylvania State Fair” runs from January 5-12, so if you go this year, you have to be a last-minute specialist. Otherwise plan for the first full week of January next year.

When we go to the farm show, there are a number of proverbial birds we try to kill with our one stone. But our favorite event is no longer on the schedule. We discovered team penning at the farm show, even though at the time we were just content to rest in the arena’s seats. Soon, however, we were fascinated to learn this cowboy sport. You will have to learn about team penning for yourself, but when there was a gruesome accident, we were most surprised to learn from an expert sitting near us that, “The horse is worth more than the rider.”

Our team penning experience is just one illustration of what we hope to get out of our trip to Harrisburg: An unexpected bit of learning and entertainment. Another time, we discovered a biological soil amendment that we included in our organic lawn care program.

We also visit every livestock exhibit, and acquaint our kids (and ourselves) with where our milk, meat and eggs come from. Stepping around small piles of manure and streams of urine, we learned that the cows who spend the week at the complex continue to be milked on site. So behind the scenes, milk tanker trucks come and remove the milk: Agricultural industry cannot even take a day off for the fair

At the rodeo, we learned that being a professional athlete is not all glamour. When a contestant had to be hospitalized, the announcer said that hospitalized contestants can’t live on prize money they aren’t able to earn.

Along with many educational exhibitors, Penn State is a dominant educational force at the show, and I daresay if someone spent a week on site, took and read all the handouts, and wrote some reports, it would equal a semester at college.

There is also ice cream made from honey, fried trout, and many other kinds of food.

And, of course, dancing tractors.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at