HARRISBURG — The butter in the 106th Pennsylvania Farm Show butter sculpture weighs as much as a television pole, could cover 96,000 pancakes and would take a person 161 years to eat based on average annual butter consumption.
The sculpture, a must-see at the Farm Show for 31 of the past 32 years, (there was no butter sculpture during last year’s virtual show) features a dairy farmer sharing a glass of milk with an urban gardener in front of a city skyline at a time when urban gardening is all the rage.
“Over the past 22 months, we have learned we are stronger and more resilient through our combined efforts to feed the commonwealth,” state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said yesterday at the butter sculpture unveiling. “It takes all of us working together to ensure a bountiful food-secure and sustainable world.”
Sponsored by the American Dairy Association North East and made of butter donated by Land O’Lakes in South Middleton Township, the butter sculpture will be on display at this year’s Farm Show. The show runs from 8 a.m. tomorrow through 5 p.m. Jan. 15 in the state Farm Show Complex at Cameron and Maclay streets in Harrisburg. Admission is free. Parking is $15 a vehicle.
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The sculptors, Jim Victor and Marie Pelton of Conshohocken, have wowed Farm Show crowds for decades with their ability to turn blocks of butter into works of art. This year, they turned 1,000 pounds of butter into a tribute to Pennsylvania’s nearly 5,400 dairy farmers and its growing urban agriculture trend.
“It sure feels good to be back,” Pelton said. “Last year we were disappointed when the Farm Show wasn’t held.” Her husband said their sculpture business is way down thanks to COVID-19. “The Farm Show is our bread and butter,” he said.
This year’s Farm Show sculpture took a lot of planning, the Montgomery County couple said. After the sculpture theme was selected, they planned the steel forms that serve as the sculpture’s skeleton, then moved them to Harrisburg.
They set up the frames in a seven-sided refrigerated case in the Main Exhibition Hall. Then, the butter was brought in and the case temperature was set between 50 and 60 degrees so the butter would spread easily. Victor and Pelton, wearing warm clothing, then spent 14 days creating the sculpture.
They cut butter from big blocks. They put gobs of butter onto the frame, then spent the next several days using modeling and drywall tools and special knives to turn that butter into a creamy creation with rich details: the farmer holding onto a calf with his left hand; the city lady holding a bunch of carrots she grew; a little girl holding a potato; a skyscraper and office building; and a barn with cows looking out.
Redding said the sculpture highlights the Farm Show theme of “Harvesting More” and celebrates how rural and urban folks come together to feed their communities. The secretary, who grows everything from pumpkins to potatoes in his vegetable garden, said the urban and suburban gardening resurgence during COVID-19 seems here to stay.
Casandra Long, a first generation dairy farmer from Spring City, called the sculpture a creative way to highlight the state’s dedicated dairy farmers. “Farming is hard work,” she said. “Some days are long. But my husband and I love every minute of it.”
An American Dairy Association North East spokeswoman said it takes 21.2 pounds of milk to make one pound of butter. She said average annual butter consumption is 6.2 pounds. Pennsylvania ranks seventh nationally in milk production, with Lancaster as the top milk producing county.
After the show, the butter will be scraped from the frame and donated to a Juniata County farm, where it is put in a methane digester and becomes methane, a gas that burns in engines and can produce electricity. One butter sculpture generally produces enough electricity to power a farm for three days.