More than 400,000 people visit the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, held each January in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Those who attended this year were the first to see the brand new "Today's Agriculture Display," themed "Opening Doors: Farming, Knowledge, Trust."
The display, occupying 10,000 feet of square space near the main food court, features examples of the modern dairy, pork, poultry, beef and veal industries with live animals and actual housing used in those agricultural sectors. Located outside the barn are plots of plants, including corn and soybeans, as well as modern farm equipment.
Click here to see feedback received from this display.
The idea for the exhibit began four years ago, when PennAg Industries Association held discussions with the Pennsylvania Pork Producers and Pennsylvania egg farmers. The groups decided to display a sow with a litter in a gestation crate and a caged layer exhibit at the Farm Show, beginning in 2008."Then we decided to take it to the next level to show more agricultural production practices," says PennAg's Executive Vice President Christian Herr.
Nearly 100 organizations and agribusinesses came together over the past year to support this endeavor, both in monetary funds and by providing volunteers to educate the public.
In the dairy sector, supporting organizations included the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence, the Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association, the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association, the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Holstein Association.
Dairy Initatives Manager Emily Yeiser of the Center for Dairy Excellence was tasked with helping to coordinate the dairy portion of the display. She recruited close to 60 volunteers, who included large animal veterinarians, dairy producers and allied industry, to answer questions from the public.
Yeiser says the Center jumped at the opportunity to participate because it was a chance to address misconceptions about dairy.
"The dairy industry isn't necessarily the red barn in the field with 20 cows," she says. "This display allows us to provide an updated image of the industry and negate some claims from activists that we haven't been open about our practices."
Local dairy producers Dave and Sharon Smith of Palmyra provided a calf, housed in a hutch. Reid and Diane Hoover of Lebanon brought in a dry cow, which rests on a sand-bedded freestall. The cow has free access to water, grain and hay, as well as a DeLaval cow brush.
See photos of the display below. Story continues below photo slideshow.
As of today, the exhibit has been open to visitors for six days, with four more days left of the Farm Show event. Herr breaks down the feedback received thus far into two categories of people, the first being the producers volunteering in the display and exhibiting at the Farm Show.
"We've heard comments like, 'This should have been done a long time ago' and 'We needed to do this,'" Herr says. "We talk about opening the doors to the public, and I think this opened the eyes of many in the ag community. We don't need to hide out in the shadows. If we're going to apologize for some of our production practices, we ought to think about changing them."
Yeiser adds that the exhibit also serves as great opportunity for producers to get more comfortable with telling their story.
"They've been able to learn how to better communicate with consumers because that's oftentimes where producers maybe aren't as comfortable," Yeiser says. "This display has allowed them to interact in a forum where consumers have an open mind and are willing to listen and learn."
One producer having those discussions was Ron Kline of Troy, Pennsylvania. View his video below. (Story continues below video.)
The second group providing feedback was the non-farm public, for whom the display was intended, Herr says.
"With a few rare exceptions, the reaction has been what we hoped it would be: acceptance. Not shock. Not appal. Just basic acceptance of 'This is how it is' and 'Now I know.'" Herr says.
Herr says those involved with the exhibit have been thrilled with the results, and other agricultural industy groups have already expressed interest in borrowing the display.
"We're looking into shipping the equipment and the displays because we've been asked to," Herr says. "We don't need to recreate the wheel. We have the ability to transfer the display to the Ohio State Fair and [events in] the Midwest."
Herr urges other agricultural organizations to be inspired by the efforts in Pennsylvania.
"I truly believe that all sectors need to be looking at how they can raise the bar," Herr says. "In agriculture, you're only as strong as your weakest link. If you as a producer aren't willing to point out and try to change that weakest link, then shame on you."
"I think the most important part of the Today's Ag display is that it allows us to explain to consumers why we do what we do — for safety reasons, for biosecurity reasons, for food quality reasons," Yeiser adds. "We're not afraid to tell our story and open our barn doors." PD
Learn more about the first-ever "Today's Agriculture" display at these other links from mainstream media outlets near Harrisburg:
• 'Today's Agriculture,' 10,000 square-foot farm at Pennsylvania Farm Show, has become must-see exhibit
• VIDEO: New 2012 Pa. Farm Show exhibit keeps it real
• Pennsylvania Farm Show brings the farm to you
- East Coast Editor
- Email Emily Caldwell