Harrisburg - They arrive anxious to catch up with old friends and teach consumers about agriculture; they leave with sore feet, tired bodies and of course, no payment for their time. Behind the scenes of the displays are the thousands of volunteers at the 2011 Pennsylvania Farm Show.
"This show doesn't happen without the volunteers," said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. "We are indebted to their commitment to agriculture, and the Department of Agriculture has a sincere appreciation for what they do at the Pennsylvania Farm Show."
Volunteers can be found all over the complex, from the food court to the educational exhibits. They represent a variety of groups and organizations and give up hours or days of their time to help consumers understand agriculture.
"Some of them have been here for more than 25 years," said Larry Weaver, assistant director of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center. "They're the ones that put the fluff and the thrill into the displays and exhibits."
In the Farm Show Food Court, visitors will find long lines at the milkshake and fried cheese cube stands, coordinated by the Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association. Dave Smith, executive director of the association, organizes more than 450 volunteers between the main stand in the Expo Hall and the smaller stand in the Food Court Annex in the Main Hall, a job he has done for the past 15 years.
"We are a non-profit organization," Smith said, "so more volunteers allow us to put more money back into our programs and the dairy industry."
Through its fundraising efforts, the Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association can help support more than 20 different programs and groups, including Pennsylvania Dairy Princess and Promotion Services, the Penn State Dairy Challenge and dairy judging teams, and agricultural education programs through the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Behind the curtains cutting and placing cheese cubes on wooden sticks are several volunteers, including Dr. Lisa Holden from Penn State University. Dr. Holden coaches the Penn State Dairy Challenge Team and gives back to the club by volunteering at Farm Show.
"It's fun to see everything behind the scenes and the work that goes into it," Holden said. "I enjoy talking to other people while I work and meeting new people."
Serving cheese cubes to customers is 17-year-old Heather Whitmer, a senior at Red Land High School, York County. As a member of the National Honor Society, she must complete 40 hours of community service, 12 of which she will fulfill in the fried cheese cube food stand.
"I started volunteering in the milkshake stand five years ago for my cheerleading team," Heather said. "Now I can use the community service hours for National Honor Society."
Across the food court in the PennAg Industries Association food stand is Melissa Zimmerman from Ephrata, Lancaster County. She works for PennAg member, Gehman Feed Mill, in Denver, Lancaster County, and has volunteered in the food stand for the past three years.
"I enjoy volunteering in the food industry," Zimmerman said. "It's nice to be able to put faces with the names I hear and read about."
With more than 300 volunteers, proceeds from the PennAg Industries Association food booth will help support its mission to promote agriculture in Pennsylvania.
PennAg also works with the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council to run an educational display with a sow and new litter of piglets.
"As farmers, we need to put our message out to our communities," explained Connie Manbeck, an independent hog farmer from Womelsdorf, Berks County, volunteering at the educational exhibit. "The only way they will learn is by farmers telling them."
Manbeck has personally benefited from volunteering by witnessing firsthand the number of consumers that do not understand agriculture. "It makes me more determined to share my knowledge," she said.
Amy Bradford, who serves as Assistant Vice President for PennAg Industries and Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council, recognizes and appreciates the amount of volunteers needed at the exhibits. "Our activities at the two exhibits couldn't be done without our volunteers."
The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the largest indoor agricultural event in the nation, featuring nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 290 commercial exhibitors. The show runs Jan. 8-15 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Admission is free and parking is $10.
For more information, visit www.farmshow.state.pa.us.
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