Butter-carving winner from New Germany, Vale Wood help launch reboot of in-person Pennsylvania Farm Show

·3 min read

Sep. 16—LORETTO — Garret McCall carved up a unique way to promote next year's Pennsylvania Farm Show.

A keystone-shaped, 45-pound butter sculpture McCall brought to the event's January 2022 teaser was the result of 30 hours of work inside a walk-in cooler with a scalpel, a sponge "and pretty much anything I could find," he said.

"I've worked with clay before ... and when I heard about the Butter Up! competition (last year), I figured I'd give it a shot," said McCall, 25, of New Germany.

Eight months after winning the first-ever Pennsylvania Farm Show butter sculpting competition in 2021, he'll have a chance to display his next work to an estimated crowd of several hundred thousand people in January.

With McCall and his buttery Keystone beside them, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and Farm Show supporters gathered at Vale Wood Farms on Thursday to announce that the event will reopen its doors to the public early next year.

After going virtual last January during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm show will have a theme of "Harvesting More" in 2022 — with leaders aiming to highlight the broad bounty that Pennsylvania's agriculture industry yielded after weathering the strenuous height of the virus.

"After cultivating virtually in 2021, it's only natural that we 'Harvest More' in 2022 as we join together in Harrisburg once again," Redding said.

The Harrisburg event is billed as the largest indoor farm show in the nation, and offers the chance for agriculture professionals to showcase their crops and creations and to compete with one another — with products ranging from homemade apple pie to hard cider to hand-sewn shawls.

The show gives farm operators across the state a chance to tell their stories, unveil innovative projects and engage youth to become a part of the industry's future, Redding said.

The week-long event has drawn 500,000 people in recent years — until 2021 — blending Pennsylvania's two largest industries, agriculture and tourism, said Michael Chapaloney, the executive director of Pennsylvania's "Visit Pa" tourism office.

"The farm show is the Super Bowl of agriculture in Pennsylvania," Chapaloney said.

Without question, COVID-19 hasn't gone away, but "we have the tools now" — vaccinations, time-tested social distancing methods and masks — to enable the event to continue January 8 through 15, Redding said.

The event will continue to embrace the virtual opportunities that made last year's online event possible, he added. Popular exhibits and contests such as Butter Up! return, along with features such as a bee hive web cam that will be viewable live through Facebook and other web media during the event.

Organizers noted that Pennsylvania's farmers — Vale Wood included — have remained just as busy in most cases over the past 18 months, working to provide the produce, dairy items and other goods Americans needed to survive the COVID-19 period.

"Our family didn't have any virtual days during the pandemic," Vale Wood Director of Business Development Carissa Itle Westrick said, noting that meant countless hours keeping up on orders for milk and dairy products. "But that's a point of pride for us."

Growing up in a dairy farming family, Itle-Westrick said getting a chance to be a part of Pennsylvania's premiere farm show was also a point of pride for her and her cousins over the years.

It was fitting how the Department of Agriculture approached Vale Wood about hosting Thursday's announcement press conference, given that the gathering involved continuing their partnership with McCall, who has made sculptures from their locally-made butter.

Much of the agriculture industry's success is dependent on local partnerships, she said.

"Agriculture is all about community ... and the farm show is a statewide celebration of that," she said.

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