Pa. secretaries of agriculture reflect on importance of Pa. Farm Show

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Panel of Pa. secretaries of agriculture
Michael Smith, executive deputy secretary of agriculture, introduces the panel of current and former Pennsylvania secretaries of agriculture (L-R), Samuel Hayes, 1997-2003; current secretary Russell Redding; Kent Shellhamer, 1977-79; Dennis Wolff, 2003-2009; and George Greig, 2011-15. Former secretary Boyd Wolf, 1987-95, was also in the audience, but did not participate.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Five former Pennsylvania secretaries of agriculture joined current Secretary, Russell Redding, on stage during the 100th anniversary Pennsylvania Farm Show Jan. 13, sharing thoughts about the Farm Show as well as the importance of the state’s agriculture.

Kent Shellhamer, who served from 1977 to 1979; Samuel Hayes, 1997-2003; Dennis Wolff, 2003-2009; and George Greig, 2011-15, were welcomed back to the stage during the Farm Show’s Fairs and Public Officials breakfast, which drew roughly 500 county fair officials and public officials from township, county and state levels. Boyd Wolf, secretary from 1987-95, was also in the audience.

“This is the reminder of what the good industry of agriculture is about,” Redding said of the show, which ran Jan. 9-16.

Shellhamer said his strongest Farm Show memory wasn’t from his years as secretary, but when he was an FFA’er from Columbia County attending the show, participating in judging contests and spending the night on cots right in the Farm Show Complex. The experience left him with a broader awareness of opportunities and potential within agriculture, he said.

“I left the Farm Show with challenges [to succeed] that stayed with me the rest of my life.”

Several of the secretaries recalled their own youth when they showed at the Farm Show, and Hayes said he was leaving the breakfast event and heading the livestock barn to help two first-time exhibitors get ready to show their animals.

“The real power of the Farm Show is when you see your own kids exhibit,” said Redding, adding that the pre-show practicing, rules and education was as much a part of the experience as the time in the show ring.

Greig, who hails from Crawford County, said the first Farm Shows were an extension of county and community fairs and were basically competitions between farmers. “Now it’s an educational forum for agriculture,” he said. “It’s more of a teaching tool” where visitors get to talk to the farmers.

And that conversation needs to happen now more than ever, echoed Shellhamer. “We need to tell them what we’re doing at every opportunity.”

The Farm Show Complex includes 24 acres under one roof, and the show is the largest of its kind. But the Farm Show is more than bricks and mortar, added Hayes. “The Farm Show is a theater, it’s a stage” to play out our love of agriculture, he said.

Hayes turned his comments to agriculture’s importance, nationally, reminding those in attendance that just 2 percent of the U.S. defends the country and 2 percent feeds the country. “I don’t think those two are mutually exclusive.”

“Agriculture is still part of our national defense,” he said. “We cannot do what Americans want to do without both. If we want America to be strong, we must protect our farmers, we must protect our farmland.”

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