Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding pal it up with Butter Gritty

Shaping 1,000 pounds of butter into a sculpture is interesting enough. Molding half a ton of butter into a replica of Gritty? Nothing short of brilliant.

When the PA Farm Show unveiled its annual churned cream masterpiece on Thursday, the intricate diorama got even more attention than usual. Starting with Ben Franklin in 1991, past editions have featured lifesize WWII soldiers, football players and chocolate cows.

But for 2020, sculptors Jim Victor and Marie Pelton upped the game considerably.

This time around, the duo from Montgomery County fashioned their dairy-clay into the familiar form of the Flyers’ hairy orange mascot — and it’s partly thanks to Pennsylvania’s reigning maestro of amusement, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman.

“To be clear, [Agriculture] Secretary [Russell] Redding could have not done it,” Fetterman told Billy Penn, noting the show is run by the Pa. Dept. of Agriculture, “so I’m grateful. But in terms of lobbying for it being a Butter Gritty, yeah. That was my office.”

Like many ridiculous concepts, Butter Gritty’s origin story can be traced to social media.

Fetterman regularly engages in Twitter banter with members of the media, among them Philadelphia reporter Brian Hickey. “He and I would talk stuff online,” Fetterman explained. “It became a running joke.”

Sure enough, there’s a relevant tweet from Fetterman to Hickey on Jan. 12 of last year, just after the 2019 Farm Show ended.

“Oh hey look who’s running their mouth like they don’t want ButterGritty ’20 farm show,” the LG teased.

To be fair, Fetterman may not have been the first to post about it.

Hickey had written about a couple who created Cheese Gritty for their holiday party. Playing off that idea, Twitter user @balancedDonna posted about a potential Butter Gritty back in November of 2018.

Fetterman and Hickey’s banter continued throughout the spring — and the idea began to crystalize in the lieutenant governor’s mind.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a butter statue of Gritty as a way of encouraging people in Philadelphia to come to the Farm Show,” Fetterman explained over the phone on Thursday.

The Farm Show, in Fetterman’s words, is like the Dept. of Agriculture’s “Super Bowl and prom and homecoming all rolled up into one.”

Hosted each January in Harrisburg, the expo is a chance for some of the 580,000 Pennsylvanians who work in the industry to showcase their work, which contributes upwards of $135 billion to the state’s economy annually. Livestock farmers trot out their best cows, poultry breeders operate a duckling slide, and there’s the very popular food hall with plenty of local produce — and dairy.

The American Dairy Association North East is the sponsor of the butter sculpture, so representatives from that organization had the final hand in coordinating the Gritty likeness, according to association spokesperson Christina Crews.

For the final form of the butter donated by Land O’Lakes, Philly’s favorite orange hellion was paired with two other mascots: Swoop, of the Eagles, and Steely McBeam, of the Steelers.

What are they doing together? Tailgating, of course.

Philadelphia Flyers’ Gritty, Philadelphia Eagles’ Swoop, and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steely McBeam, in butter Credit: Pa. Dept. of Agriculture.

“They’re united around a celebration of things we love: good food, pro sports and life in Pennsylvania,” said Agriculture Dept. spokesperson Shannon Powers.

Whether or not a Philadelphia sports fan would actually be caught partying next to a Pittsburgh sports fan, the camaraderie depicted is enough to melt a stone-cold heart. (The sculpture is kept in a refrigerated box, btw, until the show ends and it gets melted down as biofuel.)

As of this writing, Gritty himself hasn’t yet tweeted about his fat-soluble likeness — and Fetterman’s not sure he ever will.

“Grittys so cool that he may not even acknowledge it,” the lieutenant governor said. “He might be so subversive [that] he may not recognize what a tribute being rendered in pure Pennsylvania butter is.”

Either way, he’s glad the idea is attracting the attention of Philadelphians.

“Come for the Gritty,” Fetterman said, “stay to learn where your food comes from.”

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...