THE PENNSYLVANIA Farm Show in Harrisburg is for me a siren.
It calls. I go.
I went Saturday for the opening of the 98th annual weeklong event.
How long have I been going?
Well, in the 1950s when my father was capitol correspondent for the Harrisburg Patriot, the governor previewed shows with journalists and their families.
One year I had my picture taken with the show's first-born calf. Photo ran in the next day's paper, making me a famous-for-a-day first-grader.
I grew up to be a Farm Show fan. Pretty sure the calf grew up to be dinner.
Why do I still go?
It showcases an essential part of the state: 30 percent of Pennsylvanians live in rural or small communities.
(New Jersey 8 percent, Maryland 16 percent, New York 17 percent.)
Plus, I enjoy watching our pols mix and mingle with our agri-nation.
You know about the show, yes?
Largest of its kind, 24-acre indoor expo, 13,000 exhibits. Cattle, horses, sheep, swine, square dancing, tractor pulls, food court the size of a shopping mall, thousand-pound butter sculpture, all amid a wafting aroma of eau de barn.
It's free, always packed and really something to see.
But what I saw Saturday was something else.
The longest political luncheon in history: Democratic candidates for governor speaking in the Farm Show's "VIP Room" to 120 hard-core heartland Democrats.
It might still be going on.
When Allyson Schwartz got up to talk, she said: "Good afternoon. It is still afternoon, right?"
Before it started, I teased a PCN cameraman with: "Drew the short straw, eh?"
He says, "Yesterday I was doing all the cattle and swine judging."
I say, "And today pretty much the same thing."
Seven of eight announced guv candidates spoke.
Only Cumberland County minister Max Myers was a no-show, weather-locked in a Midwest airport. I suspect that his prayers were answered.
Mine were not.
The Not-So-Magnificent Seven's parade to the podium provided a level of excitement comparable to cow-patty bingo.
You probably can figure out what that is, and can visualize the similarities.
Former state environmental secretary John Hanger went first. Talked about his "people's campaign" to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. People sat on their hands. Then he called for limiting campaign spending, which is code for "I won't have nearly the money my opponents will."
Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz was next. She asked her usual complex policy questions: "Who likes dark chocolate? Who likes milk chocolate?"
I am not making this up.
State Treasurer Rob McCord was smooth as always (and by comparison); mentioned his Harvard/Wharton education; asserted, "I am by far best-built to defeat Tom Corbett."
I sensed some puzzlement among the crowd.
Another former environmental secretary, Katie McGinty, talked enthusiastically about her involvement in preserving farmland. She was far more enthusiastic than those listening.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski pitched his story of saving his city from bankruptcy while not raising property taxes. Then he read some farm stats.
I had hopes for Allyson, least farmy of the bunch. I hoped for something like, "Is it just me, or does it smell funny in here?"
Alas, she read from notes about dairy farmers in Lancaster County, Christmas trees in Clearfield and mushrooms in Kennett Square.
Oh, she also said we need to "think big" and "plan ahead."
She, by the way, is presumed front-runner.
York biz guy Tom Wolf talked of farming during Peace Corps service in India, noting that he likely was the only person present ever to use a one-bottom wooden plow pulled by oxen.
No one disputed the claim.
All this served to remind me that I like the state Farm Show much more than most of the state's political show.
I went to the food court: mustard eggs, pulled pork, real milk shakes. Far more palatable.