The 98th Pennsylvania Farm Show, an eight-day celebration of the state's agricultural products and rural life that opens Saturday, offers something for just about everybody.
There will be about 6,000 animals. Square-dancing -- on foot and on farm tractors. Rodeos. Cooking demonstrations. Contests to showcase the best apple pies, wines, edible nuts, mushrooms, corn, potatoes, swine, draft horses and beef cattle, to name a few.
But a mega artistic display of butter could be the biggest draw.
The 2014 butter sculpture, unveiled Thursday as part of a 23-year-old tradition, commemorates the 60th anniversary of farm-show milkshakes. A half-ton of butter went into the creation, depicting a family drinking shakes alongside dancing cows. After the show, the butter will be processed and used to generate electricity for a Juniata County farm.
The annual event at the 24-acre Farm Show Complex on the outskirts of Harrisburg bills itself as the nation's largest indoor agricultural event.
It has been held every year since 1917, before it moved to its present location in 1931, but officials say its roots reach back to agriculture shows in colonial Philadelphia.
“In some form or another, the farm show has been going on since William Penn's time,” said farm show spokeswoman Nicole Bucher. “I think it's something that Pennsylvanians have a lot of pride in.”
Gov. Tom Corbett is scheduled to speak during Saturday's opening ceremony. On Monday, first lady Susan Corbett plans to join Barry Crumlich, the executive chef from the governor's residence, to prepare a roasted butternut squash bisque in a cooking demonstration.
Admission to the farm show is free and attendance continues to grow. The 2013 show drew an estimated 585,000 visitors and officials expect as many this year, if not more.
The theme of this year's event -- “Pennsylvania Farms: Growing for You” -- emphasizes the increasing efficiency of modern farms, allowing them to produce more from the same amount of land.
Educating non-farmers about farm life is a key goal of the show's organizers. One exhibit features a full-sized barn stocked with farm animals and farmers on hand to answer questions. The barn is torn down after each year's show and rebuilt for the next one.
“The whole premise is opening the barn doors and letting people know exactly how their food is produced,” Bucher said. “People love it.”
Farmers and non-farmers alike also love the food court, a fast-food smorgasbord that serves items such as trout chowder, honey ice cream, potato doughnuts, deep-fried mozzarella cubes, batter-dipped vegetables and cider slushies. This year, the court is introducing a “bacon bundle,” containing strips of thick-sliced bacon available in four flavors, as well as new maple-flavored products including mustard, lemonade and salad dressing.
The show features many perennial favorites, such as the sheep-to-shawl competition and tractor square-dancing, in which “dancers” on full-size tractors steer, brake and accelerate in rough syncopation with the music.
One new event is Sunday's rabbit-hopping contest in which trained rabbits must scale miniature obstacles along the way. Coincidentally, it will be followed by a rabbit meat auction, although officials said all the hopping contestants will be spared.