The annual hallmark of the Pennsylvania Farm Show is huge, savory, and requires a whole lot of work — by humans and by cows.
It’s a butter sculpture, and people get really excited about it.
The 2023 edition will be on display for all to see starting this Saturday at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Sculptors carved a multi-generational scene of a dairy farming family, with a keystone backdrop showing a bucolic farm.
Butter sculpture has roots in both Tibet (traditionally using yak butter) and medieval Europe. In the U.S. they’re popular at Midwestern state fairs — Pa.’s annual indoor event is kind of like the commonwealth’s version.
Past PA Farm Show iterations have featured everything from Benjamin Franklin in 1991 to Butter Gritty in 2020 (probably the last good thing that happened that year). Color has been incorporated at least once — for a produce market in 2001 — and so has chocolate, for a 2004 tribute to Milton Hershey.
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The half-ton of butter for this year’s opus was donated by Land O’Lakes, which operates a plant in Carlisle, Pa. Conshohocken-based food sculptors Jim Victor and Marie Pelton transformed the mass of dairy into a near life-sized scene.
Starting this fall with a concept sketch based on the show theme “Rooted in Progress,” the artists worked in concert with the Pa. Department of Agriculture and the American Dairy Association North East, said Janene Geiss, a spokesperson for the dairy group. After constructing the armature — the internal frame that holds everything together — the artists headed to the Farm Show Complex in mid-December to begin two weeks of carving.
Once the Farm Show ends, the sculpture will be taken apart and transported to Reinford Farms in Juniata County, which will put the butter in its methane digester as biofuel.
Here are some more butter fun facts, most courtesy of the American Dairy Association. Read on if you’re at least margarine-ally curious.
‘Rooted in Progress’ sculpture: the facts and figures
32: Number of professionally-crafted butter sculptures created for the Pa. Farm Show over the years
1991: First year the Pa. Farm Show featured a butter sculpture
2021: The only year since 1991 without a big butter sculpture (there was a DIY competition instead, because COVID)
21: Number of centerpieces Jim Victor has carved for the event (15 of those have been created alongside his wife, Marie Pelton)
1,000 lbs: Approximate amount of butter used to produce this year’s sculpture
14 days: Time spent carving the butter sculpture on site at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg
50 to 60 degrees: Temperature the butter is kept at while carving
40 degrees: Temperature the butter sculpture is stored at
99 hours: Total time the sculpture will be on display to the general public, over an 8-day period
3 days: How long 1,000 lbs. of butter can power a home when run through a methane digester
What does 1,000 lbs. of butter even mean?
4,000: Equivalent number of standard sticks of butter (in the U.S.)
366,400 grams: Amount of fat, per the USDA
$2,860: Average market price, as of November 2022
21,200 lbs.: Amount of milk needed to produce
353: Number of cows it takes to produce enough milk for it in 1 day
12.5 months: Amount of time it would take just one cow to produce enough milk
153.8 years: How long it would take the average person to eat (challenge accepted)
96,000: Number of pancakes you could butter