Last updated: February 06. 2014 11:37PM - 1192 Views

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As one of Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators, it is my privilege to visit every county of our commonwealth and meet Pennsylvanians from all walks of life.

I always learn something new from them. Some teach me about our historical industries – such as coal and steel – that have built not only our state, but also our nation. Others teach me how scientific advancements in fields such as biomedical research are providing essential services and jobs. But for all our state’s diversity, agriculture, our oldest industry, remains our largest.

Whether it’s the mushroom farms of Chester County, the apple trees of Adams County, the livestock and dairy farms of Lancaster County and Central Pennsylvania, or the vineyards of Erie County, Pennsylvania is an undisputed national leader when it comes to agriculture.

The prowess and importance of our state agriculture industry is celebrated annually the first full week of January at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest indoor farm show in America. Recently, my family and a small group of friends accompanied me on my annual visit to the complex.

As soon as you arrive at the Farm Show Complex, it becomes evident that the appeal of the event extends well beyond those directly involved in agriculture. In fact, nearly half a million people visit the Farm Show each year.

Whether it’s the extensive livestock exhibits, the cooking classes, agribusiness seminars or the various competitions, the Pennsylvania Farm Show has something for everyone. In particular, my family enjoyed visiting with the draft horses, the new and antique tractor exhibits and the Today’s Ag exhibit. There is no lack of interesting ideas and information to discover about agriculture in Pennsylvania. For example, did you know that Pennsylvania is home to 69 mushroom farms? Did you also know that these 69 mushroom farms account for 65 percent of the mushrooms produced in the United States?

You can find plenty of those mushrooms – deep-fried or otherwise – at the food court. The court offers an amazing variety of Pennsylvania-based meals and treats such as pulled pork sandwiches, grilled (or deep-fried) veggies and potato doughnuts. (I highly recommend the pulled pork sliders, which are served on potato rolls.)

And no trip to the Farm Show would be complete without a milkshake from the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association. This year, the famous Farm Show milkshake turned 60. The occasion called for a special tribute — comprised entirely of butter. That’s right, the annual Farm Show butter sculpture, which recognizes a specific theme associated with the show, paid tribute to the milkshake this year.

But for all its fun and grandeur, the greatest lesson of the Pennsylvania Farm Show is respect. It can be easy to take for granted the impact agriculture has on every aspect of our lives. But visiting the booths, talking with the people, and hearing their stories helps me remember the responsibility that our farmers shoulder to ensure that America remains a leader in food production and agribusiness growth.

And next time you are at the grocery store, look for products that say “PA Preferred,” which designates agricultural products grown or cultivated in our wonderful state. When you see that label, you can rest assured that you’ll enjoy a meal made of home-grown products and support a hardworking Pennsylvania farmer who helped make it possible.

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